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No. 3 Penn State Men’s Volleyball Drops Five-Set Heartbreaker To No. 1 Hawaii In NCAA Tournament Semifinal

No. 3 Penn State men’s volleyball (27-4) fell 3-2 in a five-set heartbreaker to No. 1 Hawaii (29-2) in the NCAA Tournament semifinal Thursday night and concluded the Nittany Lions’ stellar season.

Penn State’s serving was a bright spot for the blue and white and head coach Mark Pavlik’s group recorded 12 aces throughout the match. Toby Ezeonu saw action in all five sets for the first time since his injury and joined Brett Wildman and Cal Fisher as the leaders of the Nittany Lions’ near-comeback.

How It Happened

Penn State matched the pace of the No. 1 team in the country early and the squads traded points in what was an error-filled handful of opening points. Penn State went on a 3-1 run after getting its nerves under control and jumped out to an 8-6 lead. Hawaii matched the run and took the next two points to tie the match.

The Nittany Lions energized the Penn State faithful after a scorching Hawaii serve was dug up by the defense and put away by Ezeonu. Penn State followed up the kill with two more points and increased its lead to 12-9 and forced an early timeout by the Rainbow Warriors.

Wildman came out of the timeout and delivered a service ace that pushed the Nittany Lion run to four points. Hawaii finally regained serve after Wildman followed up the ace with an error.

After trading points through the middle of the set, Hawaii’s Kana’i Akana went on a 3-0 serving run that tied the game back up at 16 and forced a Penn State timeout.

Hawaii continued its run on the other side of the timeout as Penn State committed two more attacking errors and the Rainbows Warriors pushed the lead to 20-17, which led coach Mark Pavlik to call his second and final timeout of the set.

Ezeonu and the Nittany Lion hitters struggled to get past the Hawaiian defense late, and the Rainbow Warriors quickly took hold of the opening set on the heels of a 7-1 run and went up 23-17.

After successfully defending two set points, Hawaii broke through the Nittany Lion defense and took the first set 25-20.

Fisher, after recording two kills in the first set, secured the first point of the set for the Nittany Lions in what was one of the only bright spots early on in the second set. Hawaii quickly jumped out to a 6-3 lead and fizzled Penn State’s momentum out of the break.

Led by Fisher, Penn State put together a 6-3 run and tied the game at 9-9, swinging momentum away from the Rainbow Warriors. Penn State matched Hawaii until a rally sent Wildman into the scorers’ table while trying to recover a bad pass, putting Hawaii up 14-12.

After losing the race to 15 points, Fisher stepped up and delivered a service ace that kicked off a scoring run and gave Penn State its first lead of the set at 17-16. Hawaii ended the run and slowly chipped away at Penn State, eventually taking back the lead and forcing a Nittany Lion timeout with the score at 20-18 in favor of the Rainbow Warriors.

After Penn State thought it had climbed back to within one of Hawaii, a successful Rainbow Warrior challenge took away Penn State’s point and put Hawaii up 23-20. Despite putting up another set-point challenge, an attacking error gave Hawaii its second consecutive set 25-23.

Penn State survived a brief Hawaii run at the beginning of a must-win set for the Nittany Lions when Wildman delivered three service aces to generate a 7-4 lead and force a Hawaii timeout.

Penn State maintained a four-point lead throughout the first half of the set after an unsuccessful Rainbow Warriors challenge that kept the score at 12-8.

Penn State continued to look like a completely different team during the third set as it found the gaps and overpowered the Hawaiian defense. Hawaii couldn’t match the Nittany Lions’ intensity and, coupled with errors of its own, allowed the Nittany Lions to jump out to a 19-12 leading increase the Penn State run to 7-2 before a Hawaii timeout.

Hawaii’s Dimitrios Mouchlias started a Hawaii run that was abruptly ended by a service-line violation that allowed Penn State to continue its dominate play. Penn State proved that it had found its rhythm and Owen Rose forced a fourth set with a kill that pushed the final score to 25-16.

Wildman dialed up a service ace during the start of the fourth set, but attacking errors gave Hawaii the upper hand. Mouchlias continued to be a force for Hawaii as Penn State called a timeout down 7-3.

Penn State needed to string together some points coming out of the timeout to try and stop the Hawaii momentum, but a Rose attacking error handed Hawaii another point before Wildman stole a point for the Nittany Lions.

Penn State capitalized on errors from Hawaii and quelled the early Rainbow Warriors’ charge, going on an 8-4 run to tie the game at 11-11. Ezeonu quickly delivered a kill on the very next point that gave the Nittany Lions their first lead of the match as Hawaii’s blockers began to struggle.

A frustrated Hawaii team quickly righted the ship and went on a service run that brought the Rainbow Warriors back to within one at 16-15.

The intensity of the match ramped up with Penn State clinging to a one-point lead heading into the late points of the set. Hawaii capitalized on a Sam Marsh service error and tied the game at 20 on the next point.

After a timeout called by Penn State, the Nittany Lions leveled the game at 22-22 with the season on the line. Penn State grabbed two points in a row to take the lead and force a Hawaii timeout two points away from demanding a fifth set.

The Nittany Lions took the next point and set up a set point that resulted in a Penn State service error. On a critical set point that could either close out the set or send it to extra points, Fisher took a set from Cole Bogner and drilled it into the hardwood, forcing a fifth set with the score at 25-23.

Fisher started the last set with a rare service error, but a successful Penn State challenge on the next point brought the game back to level after the first two points.

Hawaii’s Spyros Chakas served the next two rallies that both resulted in Hawaii points, leading Pavlik to call an early timeout. Penn State came out of the timeout with another service error, marking its third in three attempts to start the last set.

Hawaii was back in its first and second set form after building a five point lead on the heels of service aces and kills that put them up 8-3 before the side-change.

Penn State managed to trim the Hawaiian lead to four but couldn’t string together a run and gave serve back to Hawaii back down by five.

Wildman took two points with his service before Pavlik used his final timeout, trailing 11-8.

Penn State couldn’t find the answer to Hawaii’s attack and found itself behind 14-10 with time running out. Penn State couldn’t defend the set point after Jakob Thelle recorded a kill that ended the Nittany Lions’ season 15-10 in the set and 3-2 overall.


  • Hawaii had the answer for Cal Fisher, holding him to 14 kills on the night. Brett Wildman led the kills, however, slightly edging out Fisher with 15 total.
  • Penn State delivered 12 service aces during the match in what was one of the better serving performances from the Nittany Lions in a game where it mattered most.
  • Penn State will be in good hands for the future. Next season, the Nittany Lions will be without Cole Bogner, Wildman, and Fisher, but will return playmakers Ezeonu and Rose, giving Penn State a solid foundation for the upcoming year.

What’s Next?

The Nittany Lions will head into the offseason after winning the EIVA conference tournament and making a run to the NCAA Tournament semifinals.

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About the Author

CJ Doebler

CJ is a junior double majoring in broadcast journalism and finance. He is from Northumberland, Pa, just east of State College. CJ is an avid Pittsburgh sports fan, but chooses to ignore the Pirates' existence. For the occasional random retweet and/or bad take, follow @CDoebler on Twitter. All complaints can be sent to [email protected].

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