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No. 3 Penn State Men’s Volleyball Outlasts UC Irvine 3-2

No. 3 Penn State men’s volleyball (15-1, 4-0) defeated No. 6 UC Irvine (10-6, 0-0) in its second match in two days in the Golden State. The Nittany Lions swept Concordia in three sets on Saturday, just five miles up the road to begin their five-game stint on the road.

Cole Bogner’s pivotal leadership helped Penn State secure the win. Bogner had 43 assists and a .625 hitting percentage from the setter position. Francesco Sani lit up the scoresheet with 22 kills and Hilir Henno had a whopping 9 aces for UC Irvine.

How It Happened

The first set started with back-and-forth action between both squads. Sophomore Owen Rose fired an ace at the Anteaters to tie the score at five. Service errors from the Nittany Lions hurt the team early, giving UC Irvine a 10-9 advantage.

Cole Bogner responded for Penn State and notched his first kill of the match from the setter position. Back-to-back points gave the Nittany Lions a 12-10 lead. The service error bug struck the Anteaters and Penn State’s lead stretched to 15-12.

Cal Fisher got on the scoresheet with a massive kill from his outside hitter position and Penn State had a 20-18 lead. UC Irvine’s Cole Gillis capped off a long rally between both teams with a kill and tied the score up at 20.

An exchange of service errors kept the score tied at 23 apiece heading into the final points of the first set. Continued even play between both sides extended the first set, which was finally decided after the Anteaters scored back-to-back points and won 34-32.

Penn State responded well to the first-set loss, jumping out to an early 2-0 lead. Brett Wildman dropped a thunderous kill down on the Anteaters, making the score 9-8. Francesco Sani scored a kill to give UC Irvine its first lead of the set at 11-10. Junior Toby Ezeonu started quietly but scored multiple points in the second set to build a 19-16 advantage.

UC Irvine’s head coach, David Kniffin, challenged the point and lost, losing all remaining challenges for the Anteaters. Michal Kowal and Rose combined on a perfect block, bringing the score to 22-19. Bogner also had a massive block on set point, securing a 25-23 set two win for the Nittany Lions.

The Anteaters came bursting out of the gates in set three, scoring the first two points. Joe Karlous took over and UC Irvine extended its lead 9-4 over Penn State. Rose kicked off the Nittany Lions’ comeback, bringing it to within three points at 11-8.

Hilir Henno scored three straight aces for UC Irvine and doubled its advantage over Penn State 16-8. Head coach Mark Pavlik was forced to call a timeout once the Anteaters took over. A seven-point run led IC Irvine to have an 18-9 lead into set three. Henno and Sani continued to dominate at the net and pick apart the Penn State side.

UC Irvine took the third set in dominating fashion 25-18, thanks to a more consistent setting and defense. Set point was won on a massive Henno kill that was fired past three Penn State blockers.

Penn State still had no answer for Henno, who recorded another ace for the Anteaters to open set four. UC Irvine held a 5-4 lead at the beginning of the fourth set. Ezeonu’s struggles continued with his serve going into the net for another error and an 8-7 Anteater lead.

Ezeonu brushed it off and gave the momentum back to Penn State with a monstrous kill from the middle, which stole the lead back 14-10. UC Irvine recovered and tied it at 18 following a Sani kill.

Fisher helped Penn State pull away after a massive block and kill on back-to-back points. The score was 23-18 after a five-point run. UC Irvine responded with a four-point run and forced a Penn State timeout. Fisher shut the door on the fourth set with a kill, winning it 25-22.

The fifth and deciding set started well for the Anteaters, leading 3-1 early. Ezeonu denied a 50/50 ball at the net to give Penn State its first lead of the set at 5-4. A UC Irvine attacking error tied it up at seven at the halfway point of the final set.

Rose came up with a crucial block, giving his team an 11-9 lead. Ezeonu recorded another kill and it was a match point for the Nittany Lions. Fisher walked it off with an ace and one the set 15-11 and match 3-2.

Takeaways:

  • UC Irvine was able to compete with Penn State all night long, in part with the Anteaters winning the dig and ace battle. The Anteaters had 60 compared to 45 from the Nittany Lions. UC Irvine also had more aces, converting 13 to 6 for Penn State.
  • Who is the best player on Pavlik’s team? Night in and night out this team sees strong performances from someone different. Ezeonu and Wildman have pedigree alongside them. While players such as Fisher and Kowal can step up at any point. Penn State’s depth is a great thing to have until you need a go-to player in tough matches like this one to take over.

What’s Next?

Penn State will face UCLA for the second time this season at 10 p.m. on Thursday, March 9. The Nittany Lions knocked off the Bruins back on February 4, three sets to one.

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About the Author

CJ Gill

CJ is a sophomore from McVeytown, Pennsylvania majoring in broadcast journalism and an associate editor at Onward State. He has the great privilege of living in central Pennsylvania...Which isn't so great. You can send all disagreements to [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @CJGill14.

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