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Penn State Men’s Volleyball Looking On Bright Side After West Coast Trip

At 2 a.m. on February 29, the Penn State men’s volleyball team departed State College for Southern California. A little over 36 hours later, the Nittany Lions took the court against No. 2 Long Beach State for the first match in a four-game road trip to the West Coast.

Penn State struggled in its first match against one of the top blocking teams in the country and only managed a .132 hitting percentage against the wall of Long Beach players at the net and lost 3-1. If playing the second-best team in the country wasn’t a tall enough task, the Nittany Lions were tired.

“Towards the end of that match, we started to lose our legs a little bit,” head coach Mark Pavlik said. “It’s the first match, and you’re playing against a good team that’s going to take advantage of anything you don’t execute well.”

The Nittany Lions emphasized their middle third going into the match to try and counter the Long Beach defense, but the Sharks’ service play took the Penn State offense out of rhythm and made it predictable, culminating in a 2-0 hole for the blue and white.

Then, with its back against the wall, the Penn State offense woke up. John Kerr took control of the third set and registered nine kills on the way to a 26-24 victory to send the game to a fourth set. Long Beach took the fourth set, but Kerr continued his momentum for the rest of the road trip and was a bright spot despite the eventual 1-3 record over the trip.

“Johnny’s been getting better and better hitting against bigger and bigger blocks,” Pavlik said Tuesday. “If he can continue with that productivity, we know that we can take the ball away from some of the smaller guys who have to work hard to score against that.”

From there, Penn State traveled to Northridge, California, and beat No. 16 CSUN 3-1 on the heels of double-digit kills from both Kerr and Toby Ezeonu. The next night, the Nittany Lions took on No. 12 USC and tired legs once again stymied the offense en route to a 3-1 loss.

The fatigue began to dissipate during the last match of the trip when Pavlik and Co. took No. 4 UCLA to five sets but dropped the decider 15-12. Despite losing three games, Pavlik thought his players handled the busy schedule the best they could and saw a bright side to the trip.

This year’s NCAA Tournament is at the Walter Pyramid, Long Beach State’s home court. Not only did the trip provide a look at the travel logistics should the Nittany Lions reach the tournament, but they also faced teams that they could see again come tournament time.

“Now, the guys know what the flight is gonna be like,” Pavlik said. “The NCAA quarterfinals are Tuesday, the semifinals Thursday, championship on Saturday. That’s three matches in five days, which is what we did with four matches in seven days.”

With five weeks left in the regular season, Pavlik will emphasize getting ready for another trip out west and plans to rest players who need to be in top shape for a championship run.

A lot needs to happen before the Nittany Lions set their sights on a championship, but Pavlik says he has a feel for the team’s identity. Taking the fourth-ranked team in the nation to five sets is an accomplishment that Pavlik says made the 1-3 record sting a little bit less.

Just as Kerr carried his breakout third set against Long Beach into the rest of the trip, Pavlik is hopeful his team can take the knowledge that they can compete with the best teams in the country into the final stretch of the regular season.

“We had a good dry run,” Pavlik said. “Now, let’s see what the last five weeks have in store for us.”

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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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