Men’s Volleyball Sweeps No. 8 Long Beach State to Claim Asics Invitational Title
After beginning the season with six straight losses, the men’s volleyball team was desperately searching for a spark. Following the season’s first win over Mount Olive led by sophomore Chris Nugent’s career-high 16 kills, the Nittany Lions reeled off eight wins in their next 11 matches, culminating in this weekend’s impressive showing in the Asics Invitational in Long Beach, Calif.
No. 15 Penn State swept No. 8 Long Beach State (25-22, 25-15, 25-19) on Saturday night at Walter Pyramid to claim the invitational crown, picking up their fifth-straight win in the process.
How It Happened
Penn State began the match on the right foot, jumping out to a 7-4 advantage in the first set. Long Beach State slowly began to chip away at the PSU lead, using a 5-4 stretch to tie the score, 11-11. An attack error temporarily gave the 49ers the lead, but Penn State responded with a 5-1 streak to take a 16-13 lead. Back-t0-back blocks by LBSU narrowed the margin, and both teams continued to trade points as Penn State maintained a slim one point lead, 20-19. Long Beach State would eventually tie the score with a kill, 22-22, but two kills from Aaron Russell and an ace from Jalen Penrose secured a 25-22 win in the opening set for the Nittany Lions.
Trailing by two early in the second set, 9-7, Russell put down two consecutive kills to pull even. It was Russell again who would spark a 9-1 scoring run with another pair of consecutive kills to put the Nittany Lions ahead by a comfortable margin, 20-12. Penn State would hold off a late comeback with a strong 4-2 run, sealing a 25-15 win for a 2-0 lead.
Looking to bury the 49ers for good, Penn State marched to a 6-2 lead in the third set. LBSU would not go quietly, rallying for a 4-1 streak to knot the frame, 7-7, before the Lions rattled off four straight points to take back the lead, 11-7. A kill and a block by the 49ers narrowed the lead, 11-9, but PSU put together a 6-4 stretch to remain on top by four, 17-13. Penn State kept up the pressure with a 4-2 run highlighted by a kill and an ace from Russell to make it 21-16. The 49ers would cut the lead to three after a timeout, 21-18, but with the victory in sight, the Lions strung together a 4-1 run to complete the sweep and earn the invitational crown.
Player of the Match
Aaron Russell. Penn State’s incomparable senior had a match-high 19 kills on .414 hitting, adding five digs, three blocks and two aces. Russell was named the invitational’s Most Valuable Player, finishing with 35 kills, 15 digs, and seven aces in two games.
- Redshirt junior Taylor Hammond and redshirt sophomore Matt Callaway earned Asics Invitational All-Tournament team honors alongside Russell. Callaway finished with a team-high 11 blocks, while Hammond racked up a combined 74 assists.
- In his first career start, redshirt freshman Jalen Penrose added a team-high eight digs to go along with nine kills while finishing second on the team with four aces.
- The Lions nearly doubled the 49ers in every statistical category, recording a better hitting percentage (.298 vs. .187), more kills (46 vs. 28), assists (44 vs. 27), aces (8 vs. 2), and digs (29 vs. 13).
- Including Saturday’s win, Penn State has completed a sweep in eight of their last nine matches.
For the first time since Valentine’s Day, Penn State returns home to host No. 11 Ohio State on Saturday, March 21 at 7 p.m. in Rec Hall. The Lions were swept by the Buckeyes in Columbus in their previous meeting this season.
Photo: Mark Selders/GoPSUsports.com