Penn State Men’s Volleyball Riding Hot Streak Ahead Of Princeton Matchup

Lions, Tigers, and EIVA Volleyball.

No. 3 Penn State men’s volleyball (9-1) has gotten off to a torrid start this season and opens conference play this weekend against an infamous foe — the Princeton Tigers (4-6).

The Nittany Lions are stacked from top to bottom on both ends, have star power galore, and debatably haven’t even played a complete match yet. They’re already one of the top contenders for a national title, even in mid-February.

Penn State started the season on a tear, ripping off six straight wins and dropping just four sets in the process. It then suffered a tough, narrow loss to defending runner-ups Long Beach State. But then, the Nittany Lions got back to their winning ways, taking down powerhouses No. 10 USC and No. 2 UCLA and completing a reverse sweep over in-state rival St. Francis.

The season is just one month old, and the team has already gathered a heap of signature victories. But perhaps its most pressing challenge lies on the horizon against Princeton.

The blue and white will be seeking some vengeance over the orange and black after suffering a heartbreaking 3-2 upset in last year’s EIVA semifinals, costing them a bid to the NCAA Tournament.

The entire core group is back and out for blood.

Seniors Brett Wildman, Cal Fisher, and Sam Marsh sat out the first chunk of the season while Penn State’s young budding stars got to shine, but now they’re fully back in action along with Cole Bogner and Toby Ezeonu.

John Kerr, the senior transfer from George Mason, along with sophomores Owen Rose and Ryan Merk are some key new faces in Penn State’s lineup this year who have yet to face Princeton in their careers but will be a welcomed addition.

Junior Ben Harrington leads the offensive attack for Princeton, while sophomore Nyherowo Omene anchors the defense and is the team’s second-leading kill-getter.

Penn State has performed much better against the two team’s four common opponents Daemen, UCLA, Pepperdine, and Ohio State — the Nittany Lions are 4-0 (12-3 set advantage), and Princeton is 0-5 (5-15 set advantage), as the Tigers fell to the Buckeyes twice.

Penn State’s hitting percentage sits at .333, while their opponents hit .196. Princeton’s hitting percentage plummets to .239 as a team, and its opponents hit .292. The Nittany Lions are significantly stronger defensively, with Merk (72) and Bogner (70) leading the way in the digs category, and Rose tops in blocks (40), averaging just over one per set.

The Tigers are better at serving the ball, which is the one area Penn State has struggled this year. It plagued the Nittany Lions in their 3-1 loss to Long Beach State, recording 22 service errors, which isn’t even the season-high; it being 25 in their 3-1 win versus Stanford. This just shows that the Nittany Lions are tough to beat if they don’t beat themselves.

Penn State, led by head coach Mark Pavlik has true championship aspirations, and Pavlik is seeking to secure his first title since 2008 and second ever. A dominant win (or two) for the Nittany Lions against their rival squad who defeated them last time out would be a nice addition to the narrative.

As seen in last year’s conference tournament, anything can happen when these two square off. But a star-studded Penn State squad with a chip on its shoulder may be tough to conquer.

The Nittany Lions and Tigers go toe-to-toe first on Friday, February 17, followed by a second match on Saturday, February 18.

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About the Author

Zach Donaldson

Zach is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. He is a writer for Onward State and serves as an editor for Penn State’s CommRadio. He hails from Downingtown, Pa., or in other words "just outside of Philly." When he's not watching or ranting about Philly sports, you can probably find him at the gym. If you like sports tweets, follow him on Twitter @zachdonaldson_ and all inquiries can go to [email protected].

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