Penn State Men’s Volleyball Defeats George Mason 3-1, Advances To EIVA Championship
No. 3 Penn State men’s volleyball (25-3, 11-0 EIVA) defeated George Mason (13-15, 4-7 EIVA) 3-1 in the semifinal match of the EIVA conference tournament Thursday night at Rec Hall.
Cal Fisher carded an unheard-of 23 kills with 21 coming before the end of the third set. It wasn’t all smiles for the Nittany Lions, though, as junior middle blocker Toby Ezeonu left the game early in the first set after landing awkwardly on his ankle. Ezeonu returned to the court in a bout with crutches in the middle of the decisive fourth set.
How It Happened
Fans brought the energy early during Thursday night’s match, and the Nittany Lions capitalized on the atmosphere to gain an early 5-1 lead. The Nittany Lions’ presence was felt at the net, racking up three kills in their first eight points.
Penn State’s defense was tested after their early run, giving up multiple kills in the midst of a 5-2 George Mason run. A long rally that saw two Toby Ezeonu blocks resulted in a George Mason kill that tied the game at 11 apiece. George Mason continued its run and took the lead off of a kill that gave the Patriots a 13-11 lead and forced a Penn State timeout.
Penn State failed to end the momentum on the next point, and things went from bad to worse when Ezeonu left the game after going down awkwardly on his ankle. A visibly shaken Penn State team regained serve but gave it right back after a miscommunication led to a pass dropping to the ground untouched, putting George Mason up 16-12.
After an Owen Rose kill gave Penn State serve once again, the teams traded points until coach Mark Pavlik unsuccessfully challenged a service error that would have brought Penn State back to within three. Instead, the Patriots led 21-16 with momentum on their side.
Penn State failed to mount a comeback and dropped the first set on an attack error from Cal Fisher 25-19.
Fisher started off the second set with a service ace for the Nittany Lions, and a block by Cole Bogner Brett Wildman gave Penn State a quick 2-0 lead. With the crowd back in the game after the block, Penn State continued the run and found themselves up 6-1 in the early stages of the second set.
George Mason regained serve when a bad pass sent Wildman diving into the stands, leading to another quiet moment for the crowd and team alike while waiting to see if the senior was unharmed. After Wildman returned to the court, the Patriots took the next four points and closed the gap to 7-6.
Penn State managed to hold off the Patriots from tying the game up and rattled off a 5-2 run capped off by yet another Fisher kill that put Penn State up 12-9.
Fisher and Wildman took control of the game, recording three straight kills for the Nittany Lions and forcing a Patriot timeout with the score 15-10 in favor of the Nittany Lions.
After libero Ryan Merk recorded his first career kill, Penn State took control and increased the lead to seven in the late stages of the second set 21-14.
A service ace from Sam Marsh sealed the deal for the Nittany Lions who took the second set 25-17.
Both teams struggled to gain momentum and traded points early in the third set. After a string of errors from George Mason and kills from both Wildman and Fisher, Penn State found itself up 8-5.
Two consecutive kills from George Mason, along with two attack errors on the Penn State side, put George Mason up 15-13 and forced a Penn State timeout.
Penn State took the next two points after the timeout and tied the game at 15 before a service ace gave serve back to the Patriots.
After a George Mason attack error, Penn State brought itself back to even at 18-18 and forced a Patriot timeout with the crowd now thoroughly reengaged in the game.
After a failed challenge that left Penn State down by two, the Nittany Lions went on a 5-1 run that gave them the lead and set up a dramatic finish at 23-21 as the Patriots called yet another timeout.
A service error from the Patriots brought the home crowd to their feet to watch Fisher deliver his 21st kill of the game and secure a gritty third set for the blue and white 25-22.
Penn State kept the game even through the first six points of the fourth set but quickly turned it on and went on a 4-0 run that forced George Mason to use a timeout early with the Nittany Lions up 7-3.
The momentum didn’t stick around, and George Mason was able to get back within two before a Rose kill gave serve back to the Nittany Lions, albeit briefly. Penn State narrowly clung to a two-point lead throughout the middle portion of the set, never able to establish a run of more than two.
Everything changed for the Nittany Lions when Fisher stepped up to serve and delivered a fiery service ace that was followed up by a Wildman kill. After a 7-0 run, Fisher found himself serving for the win but couldn’t deliver as he served it into the net. With the crowd on its feet once again, Rose delivered the game-winning kill and won the fourth set and the game for the Nittany Lions 25-15.
- The Nittany Lions were without playmaker Ezeonu for the majority of the game, which will prove to be detrimental to the team’s playoff run if he doesn’t return, and after his return to the court in a walking boot with crutches, it appears likely. The Nittany Lions will need big performances from the rest of the experienced team to make up for the hole left by Ezeonu.
- Rose delivered a solid game for the Nittany Lions, carding a .667 hitting percentage en route to the team’s victory.
- Fisher took control of the game with an impressive 23 kills during the contest. The Nittany Lions will definitely need him to keep up the stellar play throughout the rest of the postseason.
Penn State will return to the hardwood at 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 22, at Rec Hall for the EIVA conference championship against No. 15 Princeton.
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About the Author
When paired with the Thespian Society by Penn State THON, the world changed for Theresa Illicete.
In their first overtime play of the season, the Lady Lions fell just short of a conference upset.
The Nittany Lions collected four pins and four other bonus point victories.