Penn State coach Mark Pavlik and U.S. men’s national volleyball coach Alan Knipe held a joint news conference Wednesday to announce their new partnership for the men’s volleyball NCAA Tournament.
The NCAA Tournament will be May 5-7 at Penn State. Check out the transcript of the news conference with reporters for The Daily Collegian and Off the Block asking questions.
Introduction from the coaches
Mark Pavlik: This is unlike any national championship or men’s volleyball event that has been out there. USA Volleyball is going to have a significant presence here that week, and I think our goal is to make sure that not only the Pennsylvania volleyball community, but the East Coast volleyball community, understands that there is going to be volleyball going on from Monday through finals on Saturday here at Penn State, and it is going to affect all levels. I just think that this is going to be a great celebration of the sport. … I think the true volleyball fan can look at this and say hey I want to spend more than two, three days in Happy Valley, let’s come Monday or Tuesday to watch some high level practices going on.
Alan Knipe: This is definitely a first for USA Volleyball and NCAA men’s volleyball to co-exist at the NCAA championships and really make it more of an extravaganza. It’s the most important event of the year for collegiate volleyball, and this really is for us where we get all of our players. Where as a lot of countries from around the world choose from their club championship teams, we choose from the NCAA teams, and I think it only makes sense for us to be a part of this. I’ve said for many, many years when I was coaching in NCAA volleyball that USA Volleyball needed to have a bigger presence at our own championship, and that is exactly what is going to happen with this. There is not a better place to do this than working with Mark and Penn State. I know it will be phenomenal and the support is great from fans and the club tournament demographics are great for us work with. It should be an amazing week. I want to stress that everything USA Volleyball does during the week is completely open to anybody to watch, observe and take notes, ask questions of the coaching staff and interact with players that are there. I want this to be very open and transparent and have a good relationship and a good experience for everybody.
The Daily Collegian: Pav can you talk about with USA Volleyball coming and Max Holt and Matt Anderson being on the team. That will be exciting for you and them to come back and see their team in the Final Four.
MP: I think it’s great not just seeing Max and Matty from a personal standpoint, but from what they meant to this program. The work that they put in and at the next level with Alan and the U.S. team. It is always great to have those guys come back. More importantly they are going to be ambassadors not only for USA Volleyball but for Penn State volleyball in the time that they are here Thursday to Saturday. … It is always great to see former Nittany Lions back here this time of year.
DC: Coach Knipe, are you expecting this to be a one time thing or an annual tradition?
AK: Well I sure would like to see it be something that is annual, to be honest with you. It is something too important for men’s volleyball, regardless of NCAA or USA Volleyball, to have a presence in own championship. I know the women’s championships has a lot of things going on with our annual [AVCA] convention and a lot to offer to the volleyball fan to go to the women’s championship. It is not in any way a competition to the women’s championship. I think for the true volleyball fan you are going to get to opportunity to see a couple levels at this event. You are going to see a very high level of a NCAA nation championship, and you are going to see some guys just recently removed from the NCAA who play in our gym and have the opportunity to come back and hopefully show a glimpse of what future looks like for USA Volleyball. I think you get to see something unique in the men’s game. You get to see how closely the men’s staff of the USA program, it doesn’t matter if it’s my staff or any staff over the years, how closely they work with NCAA coaches and what a tight-knit volleyball community we have.
DC: Coach is this something you see as important for the long-term growth of the support, especially with it being overshadowed by the women’s game?
AK: Absolutely. I think it is incredibly important any time we can educate our fan base on what is going on with international volleyball and what happens to these phenomenal athletes once they leave their colleges. There is not a lot of information about what happens on their club teams unless you know where to go on the internet. I would love to see a little more awareness by our fan base to know that hey when a Matt Anderson leaves Penn State or a Max Holt leaves Penn State, I know where he is playing. I know the club team that he’s playing on. I know how to watch and that I’m going to follow him, watch the videos, see what matches are live on the internet. I’m excited about volleyball after the collegiate game. I’m going to follow my favorite players and my favorite team, obviously USA Volleyball, and watch their tourney in the Olympics. This is a very important event to help us bridge from college volleyball to international volleyball.
DC: Are you anticipating bringing your full roster to the scrimmage?
AK: I am not, because of the timing we can’t do that. We won’t even have everyone in our gym on the weekend of the Final Four. We will still have some guys playing in the playoffs in Europe. What you are going to see is a mixture of some guys that are going to be playing for us on our top team, maybe the World University Game team and a couple guys who would be World League roster guys. It’s a little bit of a hybrid team, but I think something everyone should be prepared to see is guys coming back to play this game, and the game changes after college and the level will be very high.
DC: What do you think this will do for attendance at this year’s tournament, compared to other Final Fours?
AK: I don’t think you can grow the fan base at the event when you have a sellouts at Final Fours. I think Penn State kind of sets the bar when it comes to how to runs a championship and how to get people to attend it. We would hope that not only is the event sold out but there is maybe more people at semifinals and more people out Friday. There is more of a volleyball buzz all week long. There are people from the university and in Happy Valley talking about volleyball, watching volleyball, training, being part of the clinics. If you only judge it off of the NCAA championship, I don’t think that is fair to what we are trying to do.
MP: I agree with Alan. I think the real excitement here has always been outstanding. We have always had big crowds. I think the real true test will be next year at USC and the year after that at UCLA. We can set a bar here for some of the events we can have around the men’s championships. And I think the true value of what we do here year is really going to be felt four, five and six years down the road when we look back at this with both USA Volleyball, NCAA volleyball and the host institution, and say this is something we to continue to build on and continue to raise the standards. And all of a sudden maybe those facilities that we look at that hold 5,000 to 7,000 we are going to look at and say, ghee we need more because of all the events that go on.
AK: You look at the long-term growth of USA Volleyball, there is nothing to say that this is not the only model we can use. It would be nice to think down the line on the Friday that we are going to use the gym it is us playing somebody else, whatever that country might be. We might be able to get an exhibition match against someone else and it will be an exciting three-day event. Not to take anything away from the exhibition we do in our blue and red scrimmage, but we could bring in another country and play them on Friday night.
DC: Will practices be open Wednesday for the college teams?
DC: Coach when you were playing here, the Final Four was at Penn State. Can you talk about that experience of playing the tournament here.
MP: ’82 was special because it was the first time the NCAA championship were held in East Coast. I remember it was later in May that the championships were held. Rec Hall was packed. The track had people on it, standing room only. CBS came in. At that point Rec Hall was not outfitted for lights or anything so CBS brought in its own lights. So the lights and the people in there jacked up the temperature to like 90 degrees in there. The fact is in that semifinal we upset USC in five games, one of the bigger upsets in NCAA men’s volleyball history. It kind of put us on map, and I think the Pennsylvania volleyball community and the East Coast volleyball community anytime they see red, white and blue in their area — and I mean people even a five-hour drive away — they are going to come out and support it. The fact that we can now bring in an upper level NCAA men’s event and you got USA Volleyball here. I think that the people out here in our volleyball community are starving for this type of event. I think it will be well attended like it was in ’82.
DC: Do you think that will get more kids involved?
MP: Speaking for Alan, I think that is what we are both hope. We want kids who are going to be the next Matty Anderson. We want to kids who want to be the next David Lee. We want kids who are going to be the next Lloyd Ball. The more we can put models in front of them and kind of interact with them, and hear Alan speak and be in a clinic with them and watch teams play. If we get into the championships they get a chance to watch Joe Sunder take a swing at a ball. I think we need those models, and the more we can throw in front of them the better off we are going to be.
Off the Block: Is there a target goal for how many people you would like to have at this event?
MP: I think Rec Hall holds the way it is going to be configured holds about 5,600 to 5,800 people, and I think the last two national championships we’ve had here we’ve been above 9,500 I believe in the two-day attendance. What I would love to do is see two sellouts. I’d love to turn people way Thursday night and Saturday night if they think that they can walk-up and get a ticket. I’d love to have that happen.
DC: Who is going to be involved in the clinic on Saturday?
AK: Everything we do our players will be in. They are there and helping at the clinic and will be on the court. They will be interacting with the players and coaches. Everyone that is there, the entire delegation will be helping.
Reporter: Coach where do you think your team is at this point of the season?
MP: This has been the best we have played the last two weeks all year. I’m really excited. .. It has gone better than expected with some of our young guys doing some things. … I like where we are at, and this week gives us another week to visit some hostile territory and keep playing at the high level that we are at.
DC: You have played and coached in a lot of Final Fours. What have made some of them really special for you or really fun to go to?
MB: I think obviously I favor any championship that we have here. Long Beach State does a wonderful job running the national championship. There has been two there, and I think what makes it standout is when the event people putting them on, they understand that when a student-athlete walks into that facility the environment, how they dressed that facility up, they have done everything to make that student-athlete say this is a national championship and not just well this is another weekend of matches. Long Beach has done a great job with that. Irvine did a wonderful job with that. Last year at Stanford, we walked into the gym and you felt this is special. And that’s my measuring stick because for the kids you never know when you get to comeback and enjoy it. I really wish that for the four teams that qualify for it they come in and leave with memories of things that they don’t forget for a long, long time.
DC: With a young team, and with all the fanfare this week how do you make sure this team is on an equal keel and focused?
MP: The beauty of Penn State is we have been through this. We have older guys bringing the younger generation along. So, we try to keep it business as usual. I don’t get too caught up in it because the guys know been here, done this. I’m more concerned with the fact that we are at home. When you are on the road you have a little more control. You can circle the wagons and sequester the group. Here, there are going to be so many people pulling at them. If we make it through the EIVA, those are the things that worry me.
Penn State staff: Any other questions?
AK: Before we wrap up here I just want to say that there is a lot that goes into running a championship. I’ve done it before, and I don’t know if there is anyone who does it better than Penn State. They set the standard very high, and I think that is a really big reason why we decided that this was the right year to do this joint venture with USA Volleyball and Penn State. I know from our end we have very limited control of how this event is going to be run, but we have a very high expectation of how we need it to be run for what we would like USA Volleyball to be viewed as for a spectator standpoint. So, I think it goes without saying that the reason why we are there is because of the men’s staff and Mark’s support staff that he has there. They are going to run an event we want to be part of and they can set the standards so high.