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No. 9 Penn State Men’s Volleyball Outplayed By No. 12 USC 3-1

No. 9 Penn State men’s volleyball (13-5, 4-0 EIVA) fell to No. 12 USC (11-8, 2-4 MPSF) 3-1 in a late-night matchup on the West Coast. The second game in as many days proved to be too much for the Nittany Lions after besting No. 16 CSUN on Tuesday.

John Kerr led the way for Penn State with 21 kills from outside hitter. The blue and white hit only .250 offensively and couldn’t muster a comeback after falling behind two sets to the young and talented USC squad.

How It Happened

Mark Pavlik and the Nittany Lions got things started from Southern California by way of a Michael Valenzi kill. Both teams settled in during the first few points, trading the score as the opening set got underway. USC posted its first lead of the evening with back-to-back points. Caleb Blanchette’s ace gave the Trojans an early 7-3 advantage.

Pavlik called an early timeout, trailing 9-4, after Michal Kowal sent an attack into the USC’s tall blockers. Penn State came out of the timeout, scoring consecutive points to cut into the deficit. John Kerr recorded his first kill of the night, and the Nittany Lions were back within two of the Trojans. A couple of points later, Kerr couldn’t get the dig on the USC attack, and the home team rebuilt its lead.

Luke Snyder showed off his passing skills, putting the ball on a dime for Kerr for his second kill of the set. At the halfway mark of set one and trailing by two points, the Nittany Lions brought it within one on a combined block from Kerr and Toby Ezeonu. The Trojans then capitalized on a few mistakes from Penn State, and their lead stood at 16-13 after the break.

USC expanded upon its lead, recording back-to-back kills to make it a 20-15 ball game in set one. Running out of time in the opening frame, Owen Rose punished a kill over the Trojan blockers to keep the Nittany Lions within striking distance. Two points away from winning the opening set, the Trojans called their first timeout of the match following a three-point run by Penn State. The late comeback came up short for the blue and white, losing the first set 25-22.

Valenzi and Kerr notched back-to-back kills to begin set two, and both teams traded points from there as they did in the opening game. After a quiet first frame, Ezeonu showed his length on a block and tied it at three. USC scored the next three points of the game and once again jumped out to an early lead. Moments later, Dillon Klein fired a serve into the net, which broke the Trojan scoring run.

Ezeonu finally recorded his first points of the night with an ace to cut the deficit to 8-5. A few strong plays by Kowal from there brought the Nittany Lions within one point. Ezeonu and Kerr combined for a block on Klein, but the pair sent the ball wide, and USC regained its healthy lead. Ezeonu responded with a kill as the set approached its midway point.

Penn State continued to have no answer for the Trojans as they expanded their lead to 18-14 in the second set. The Nittany Lions struggled from behind the line and on attacks compared to USC’s successful offense. After a timeout, Klein denied Kerr’s attack all by himself, and the blue and white looked as lost as they had all night.

Heading into the back end of the second set, USC led the ninth-ranked Nittany Lions 22-16. Pavlik once again burnt a timeout to try to regroup his group before it was too late. The West Coast dominance continued out of the timeout, and the Nittany Lions dropped the second set 25-19.

Rose got the Nittany Lions going with the first kill of the third set, and Penn State jumped out to an early lead. Rose kept the momentum in the blue and white’s hand with an ace a few points later. USC struggled at the beginning of the third set, committing a few attacking errors to give the opposition a 6-2 lead.

Ezeonu used his athleticism to get another kill, and Penn State held its largest lead of the match at 8-4. The Trojans cut the deficit to two on back-to-back kills from their outside hitters. Michael Schwob checked into the game for the first time since February 3, hoping to give Penn State a lift.

Through the next few points, Penn State held on to its four-point lead. For the first time all night, it looked like the Nittany Lions were starting to click offensively. Schwob and Ezeonu combined on a block, forcing a USC timeout trailing 16-9 halfway through set three. Following the break, Ezeonu was called for a lift on an attacking error, but the Trojans couldn’t build on anything from there.

Ezeonu dialed up back-to-back aces to extend Penn State’s lead and silence the USC crowd in the process. Everything was going the Nittany Lions’ way in the third set. Down 22-13, the Trojans finally stopped the blue and white’s scoring run, but it was too late as Pavlik’s team took the third set 25-15 in commanding fashion.

Penn State picked up right where it left off with Ezeonu and Kerr going back to work. The two seniors dominated at the net to start the fourth set. Riley Haine scored back-to-back points for USC, stealing the lead from the visitors. Haine converted again, and the Trojans led 6-4 early in the fourth set.

The Trojan lead stayed at two from there as neither team went on a run until Valenzi dropped a kill inside the lines to tie it at 10. Kerr sent the serve long on the next point and USC led by a penny. A few points later, Penn State converted on the match’s longest rally to date and gave the Nittany Lions the small advantage in the must-win fourth set.

Kowal and Rose combined on a massive block which tied the game at 13 points apiece. Kowal and the Nittany Lions were handed a yellow card for the excessive celebration, much to the displeasure of Pavlik. At the halfway mark of the fourth set, Penn State led by a slim 15-14 margin. The Trojans’ block on Kerr went long out of the break, and for the first time all set, the blue and white led by a pair of points.

USC kept it close into the later stages of the fourth set, much on the back of strong defense. Kyle Paulson led a 3-0 run from the service line for the Trojans as they regained the lead, looking to close out Penn State. Kerr used his offhand to tie it at 22 as things could not be any closer between the groups in the fourth set.

Blanchette buried his third ace of the match at the biggest moment. The freshman’s ace made it match point before Pavlik called a last-second timeout. After bringing it to within one, Rose’s service error sealed the loss for Penn State, losing the fourth set 25-23 and the match 3-1.

Takeaways

  • Penn State struggled on the second leg of back-to-back matches. Playing two games in as many days on the other side of the country is no easy feat, and it showed, especially in the opening two sets as Penn State lacked any assertion and energy.
  • The Nittany Lions couldn’t muster any momentum all match. John Kerr once again padded the stats offensively, but besides the fifth-year graduate, not many other starters showed any dominance. Penn State will need more out of the rest of its hitters to knock off UCLA on Friday.
  • Michael Schwob provided a nice spark off the bench. His change of pace helped Penn State in the third and fourth sets, but it proved to be a little too late to march the comeback.

What’s Next?

The Nittany Lions will head across town to square up with No. 4 UCLA at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 8.

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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's a huge Phillies fan, which has its pro and cons come October. You can send all disagreements to [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @CJGill14.

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