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No. 1 Penn State Men’s Volleyball Falls To No. 15 Ohio State 3-2

No. 1 Penn State men’s volleyball (18-3, 4-0 EIVA) dropped a five-set thriller against No. 15 Ohio State (13-9, 5-3 MIVA) 3-2 Tuesday night at Rec Hall.

Cal Fisher boasted a .500 hitting percentage on 19 kills and five service aces for the Nittany Lions in the losing effort, while Toby Ezeonu hit .692 on 10 kills, highlighted by one service ace. The falter ends Mark Pavlik’s unit’s three-match winning streak spanning over the last 10 days.

How It Happened

Penn State struggled to find its footing throughout early action in Tuesday’s match. Attacking errors and a net violation forced the Nittany Lions to use their first timeout early while trailing 6-1. From there, the Nittany Lions gained rhythm, after a Michal Kowal kill jumpstarted a 3-0 Penn State run.

After Ohio State once again cultivated momentum in its direction, Cal Fisher stepped in and took it right back. The Pittsburgh product delivered two consecutive service aces during a 4-0 run, which brought cut the deficit to a 14-13 mark favoring the Buckeyes.

The Nittany Lions never led during what was a largely back-and-forth first set. Penn State made a late stand, as it took three set points. However, Ohio State secured a 25-21 first-frame victory.

Penn State came storming back in the second set with a 3-0 run to flip the switch. Michael Valenzi was the early star, registering three kills in seven points, helping the Lions jump out to an 8-2 lead.

From there, Pavlik’s unit maintained its lead until an Ohio State surge brought the score to 13-11 margin. But, a kill courtesy of Fisher stalled the Buckeyes’ momentum and put the lead back into Penn State’s court, leading 14-12.

Ohio State looked like it had cut the lead down to three late in the second set, but Pavlik pulled his second challenge card of the night on a suspected Ohio State net violation. The challenge was successful, as a former three-point Penn State lead quickly morphed into a five-point edge for the home unit. Penn State never looked back, as Pavlik’s group secured a 25-18 second-set win.

Neither team was able to find separation early on in the third set. Service errors continued to hurt the Nittany Lions’ offense, and the Buckeyes captured a 7-5 lead. Ohio State continued to string together kills at the expense of Penn State’s blockers, and quickly found themselves up 15-10 on the heels of a 5-1 run.

Seemingly with no momentum to boot, the Nittany Lions willed their way back with a hot streak. A 6-1 run kicked off by a Cole Bogner kill brought Penn State back into the driver’s seat. Owen Rose went above the net for an athletic block that gave the Nittany Lions an 18-17 lead, equating to their first since the set began at a 3-2 mark.

Ezeonu was seemingly everywhere in the late stages of the third set, notching another two momentum-swinging kills along with a service ace that set up a set point. An Owen Rose kill ultimately gave the set to the Nittany Lions 25-22.

Penn State started the fourth set with yet another service error that allowed the Buckeyes to jump out in front. The Nittany Lions were able to recover and tied the game at eight-a-piece after a 4-0 run. Ohio State was able to maintain a narrow lead for most of the set, as unforced errors prohibited the Nittany Lions from playing like their typical selves. At that point, the home unit’s deficit slipped to a 21-15 margin.

Ezeonu entered the game once again and proved to be exactly what the Nittany Lions needed. He delivered a fantastic kill that dropped right in the middle of the Buckeye defense, which cut the opposition’s lead down to three. Despite Ezeonu’s presence, Ohio State proved to be too much to handle, as they forced a fifth set after taking the fourth frame 25-21.

A tired Penn State team was quickly energized by back-to-back Fisher aces that gave the Nittany Lions their first lead of the fifth set 4-3. The Nittany Lions seemingly followed up each solid possession with a service error, which allowed Ohio State to keep the game within reach.

Brett Wildman, Ezeonu, and Fisher energized Penn State late, and Ezeonu eventually delivered a kill that fired up Rec Hall and gave the Nittany Lions an 8-5 lead. A service ace from Ohio State left Penn State in a 14-13 hole, as the Nittany Lions were just one point away from dropping the match. After the timeout, Cole Young delivered a second straight service ace that ended the match, 15-13 in favor of the Buckeyes.


  • Service errors were one of the big difference makers in Tuesday’s match with the upset-minded Buckeyes. Penn State committed 29 ill-advised plays off the serve, which is nearly double its campaign average.
  • Fisher, Ezeonu, and Wildman put the Nittany Lions on their backs, but the three-man tandem was ultimately overwhelmed by Ohio State’s complete, team-spanning performance. Wildman had an incredible stretch of kills and Fisher did virtually everything in his power to keep the contest competitive, as he recorded 19 kills with a .500 hitting average.
  • Despite the loss, Penn State led Ohio State in every other stat category besides the final score. With lowly Harvard looming for its next matchup, Pavlik’s troops should be poised for an instant bounce-back trouncing.

What’s Next?

Penn State will return to action against Harvard at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 31 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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About the Author

CJ Doebler

CJ is a sophomore double majoring in broadcast journalism and finance. He is from Northumberland, Pa, just east of State College. He is the reigning back-to-back curling league champion at Penn State. For the occasional random retweet, follow @CDoebler on Twitter. All complaints can be sent to [email protected]

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