Nine Straight Wins Later, Men’s Volleyball’s Abysmal Start A Distant Memory
Penn State men’s volleyball’s season couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start. The Nittany Lions (now 13-9, 7-0) went winless in the season-opening Outrigger Invitational held in Hawaii, and came back to the mainland to face a brutal stretch of games, including matches against two of the top teams in the country — Loyola Chicago and Lewis — on back-to-back nights. Things didn’t look too promising, but that all changed after it won decisively on the road against Sacred Heart on Feb. 27.
Since then, the team hasn’t lost a game, and is currently riding a nine-game winning streak, playing like a team on a mission with the EIVA Tournament right around the corner. We took a look at some of the keys to the team’s success.
Led by massive redshirt junior middle hitter Matt Seifert, Penn State’s been unstoppable over the nine-game span. A critical point came during the team’s three-game stint out west, where it recorded impressive victories against USC, Cal State Northridge, and Long Beach State. Team morale has been high, and head coach Mark Pavlik’s group is determined with postseason play approaching.
“We’ve had some good games against ranked teams, especially when we went to California. We haven’t performed that well out there since we won the national championship,” said redshirt freshman opposite hitter Aidan Albrecht. “We’re looking forward to everything that lies ahead.”
Sophomore outside hitter Chris Nugent — one of the team’s breakout players over the nine-game streak — shared a similar sentiment.
“This season has been a huge swing in terms of momentum,” said Nugent, who’s hitting .219 on the year. “In the beginning, we played some really solid teams and just didn’t have our game figured out yet. Once most of our injuries healed up and we started to play well together, we have been a force to be reckoned with. We really play as a team, which makes it hard for opponents to get a lot of momentum.”
That’s been the mentality all season for the team. The recent success hasn’t caught anybody by surprise; it was only a matter of time before everything clicked.
“We knew we were a good team the whole year,” said Albrecht. “Our coach told us we weren’t going to go down defeated, and we knew we were capable of this.”
Another pleasant surprise has been the play of redshirt freshman outside hitter Jalen Penrose, who’s hitting an impressive .215 on the year. He’s served as an admirable replacement for senior Nick Goodell, who went down during the team’s west coast matchup against Cal State Northridge.
“Aaron [Russell] has been playing really well this whole season. I mean, he’s one of the best players in the country,” said Albrecht. “Jalen has been stepping up big time this year as well.”
Penn State will be faced with some critical matchups in the coming few weeks. The Nittany Lions can clinch home court advantage for the EIVA Tournament this weekend when Harvard and Sacred Heart come to town, and can make a statement when the team travels to New Jersey to battle a talented Princeton squad next weekend.
It’s been a roller coaster ride of a season, but the resiliency this Penn State team has shown over the course of its impressive streak of dominance has inspired hope. It won’t go down without a fight, and if its trailblazing stretch this spring is any indication, Penn State can be any team’s worst nightmare.
Photo: Mark Selder/ GoPSUSports