For the first time in five years, the No. 7 Penn State men’s volleyball team will play a regular season home match against a team from the MPSF.
The Nittany Lions will play No. 8 UC Irvine at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Cal State Northridge at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. In addition, No. 9 Ohio State will travel to University Park, Pa., this weekend to play these two West Coast teams at Rec Hall.
Penn State (6-1, 2-0 EIVA) traditionally travels to the West Coast twice per season to play top ranked MPSF schools. However, UC Irvine and Cal State Northridge this weekend will become the first MPSF teams since Long Beach State in 2006 to play a regular season match at Penn State.
Off the Block conducted an interview with Penn State coach Mark Pavlik earlier this week to discuss the upcoming home matches this weekend.
Off the Block: Coach what are your initial thoughts on the two matches against the West Coast schools this weekend?
Mark Pavlik: I think it is an another opportunity for us to play top quality teams and see where we stack up. It’s always fun to get John [Speraw] and Jeff [Campbell] here. The only time we get to see each other is when we compete in the final four or when we compete out there during Spring Break.
OTB: In recent years not many MPSF schools have come out to Penn State. How were you able to get the two West Coast teams to come to Penn State?
MP: Over the past the decade teams come out here. It hinges on the budget and schedule. Whether or not they had to go to Hawaii that year. It’s also a matter of scheduling our weekend and getting into the main gym. We got to work with wresting and gymnastics. I’m not going to ask a team to come here and play in south gym in a game that can have seeding ramification later in the season. The Pennsylvania volleyball community always wants to see teams they usually don’t get to see come in here, and to try to shoehorn them into south gym wouldn’t be right.
OTB: What has been the community reaction to UC Irvine and Cal State Northridge coming here this weekend?
MP:They’re excited. We have always been able to get crowds. We have been getting better and better crowd each year, but this time of year it depends on the January or February weather if they are willing to drive in from two hours away compared to the national championship event in the spring. We always had some great crowds for these events.
OTB: Do think that the crowd size can lead to more West Coast teams coming to Rec Hall in the future.
MP: It helps volleyball overall, not just with the East Coast or Midwest. It helps when you are getting to play in an emotional cheered environment. I liken it to Duke playing NC State in Cameron Arena for basketball officials. You got the Cameron Crazies there. If you talk to any basketball official it is different calling a game there in that charged environment than a Wednesday game anywhere that doesn’t have the passion running throughout the building. We don’t have many of those places in volleyball. Loyola’s Alumni Gym is a great example of a charged environment anytime you go and play there. I think the more we can do to get those things and create good crowd environment the better it will be for everyone involved in the game.
OTB: Your team is coming into this weekend on a six-match winning streak. How do you feel your team has been playing those first seven matches?
MP: We are a work in progress. I still have concerns on physicality of the team. We are playing clean volleyball and hitting it in the right areas. … Our big three Joe [Sunder], Edgardo [Goas] and Dennis [Del Valle] are playing well and giving the younger players on the team room for growth. We are a work in progress. We are far, far away from where I think we will be at the end of the year. This group is fun to be with in the gym, and they work hard in practice. There is a grittiness about them, and they don’t back down from any challenge.
OTB: Both UC Irvine (4-6, 2-4 MPSF) and Cal State Northridge (2-7, 1-5 MPSF) have struggled record-wise so far this season. Are you surprised that among UC Irvine, Cal State Northridge and Penn State, you’re the only one with a winning record?
MP: You never know how things shake out here early in the season. We are playing two volleyball teams with records of success throughout their programs’ histories. You can throw the records out when the whistle blow it comes down to playing volleyball. That’s what those two programs have done, and that is what we expect this weekend. Records mean nothing.
OTB: Outside attacker Joe Sunder has been averaging almost five kills per game this season. What has he meant to team this year, especially with All-American outside attacker Will Price graduating last season?
MP: Joe is the kind of the guy that gives us confidence on the court. We know Joe is going to do things that makes it hard to defend him. He has had a tough swing this early in the season. It has taken the pressure off our younger players and other guys on the team.
OTB: The next seven days you play matches against Cal State Northridge, No. 8 UC Irvine and No. 9 Ohio State. How much will these matches serve as a measuring stick to see how your team compares to the top ranked tames in the nation?
MP: I think when we put our schedule together we like to create mile markers to see where we are at. Playing at the Outrigger to open the season is a good starting base. This weekend is another good marker from here on, and going to St. John’s on Wednesday [to play Ohio State] will be a challenge and half for us. Then in March we head out [to California] for our Spring Break and that will give us a mile marker. That last week of the regular season we have matches at Ball State and Fort Wayne and that is always a tough trip. … It’s about getting us ready so we be playing well entering the EIVA Tournament, and then able to be in our own locker room for the national championships [at Penn State this year].