Five matches against MPSF teams and opening the season against the defending NCAA champions Ohio State highlights the 2012 Penn State regular season schedule that the team released Wednesday.
Penn State last season won its 13th consecutive EIVA championship and lost in the NCAA Tournament semifinals to Ohio State. The Nittany Lions have six starters returning for the upcoming season, including All-American outside attacker Joe Sunder.
Check out the five things to know about Penn State’s schedule for the upcoming season.
Five things to know about the schedule
1. Big Ten brothers clash
Penn State will not have to wait long to get its rematch against Ohio State after losing to the Buckeyes on their homecourt in the NCAA semifinals last season. The Nittany Lions will open their season on the road against Ohio State on Jan. 14. This match will mark the first time in NCAA men’s volleyball history that two non-West Coast programs with national championships will play each other. Penn State won the NCAA title in 1994 and 2008, while Ohio State won the NCAA championship last year to become the first MIVA team to legally win the national championship. Along with the season opener, Penn State will play a home match against Ohio State on March 3. Ohio State and Penn State, both in the Big Ten for every sport besides men’s volleyball, traditionally have played home-and-home non-conference matches each season. In addition, the Big Ten Network in previous years has aired the Penn State-Ohio State matches — one of the few live nationally televised men’s volleyball matches during the regular season.
2. Traveling to BYU
Less than one month before the NCAA Tournament, a potential Final Four matchup will take place as Penn State will play a two-match series against BYU in Provo, Utah. The Nittany Lions have reached the Final Four all but once during coach Mark Pavlik’s 17-year head coaching tenure and will likely be the favorites to win the 2012 EIVA championship. BYU was ranked No. 2 at the end of the 2011 regular season but was upset in the MPSF Tournament quarterfinals and missed out on a Final Four berth. The Cougars have three All-Americans returning for the upcoming season and will likely be the preseason favorites to win the 2012 MPSF championship. This will be the first time since 2003 that Penn State has played a road match against BYU.
3. West Coast swing
Along with its two matches against BYU, Penn State will travel to California to play Pepperdine on March 8 and USC on March 9. It also play Stanford at the beginning of the season on a neutral court during the Ohio State Invitational. The Nittany Lions traditionally travel to the West Coast to play MPSF teams each season. Unlike previous years, though, Penn State will not participate in Hawai’i’s home tournament the Outrigger Invitational or Long Beach State’s home tournament the Active Ankle Challenge. These changes have allowed Penn State to travel to new West Coast destinations in 2012. Penn State has not played a road match at Pepperdine since 2001 and has never in its program history played a road match at USC, which will also be the site of the 2012 Final Four. USC and Stanford ended last season in the top three of the MPSF regular season standings, while Pepperdine missed the MPSF Tournament for the first time in its program history.
4. The grand EIVA expansion
Penn State will have to do a little more work in conference play if wants win its 14th consecutive EIVA championship in 2012. The EIVA for the upcoming year expanded its conference season from 10 to 14 matches and eliminated the Tait and Hay divisions. These changes were made after three EIVA schools — NYU, Springfield and Juniata — announced they would leave the Division I-II conference to compete for the inaugural NCAA Division III championship in 2012. With the new conference format, the eight remaining EIVA teams will play a home and road match against every school in the conference. As a result, the upcoming season will be the first time in Penn State’s history that it will play road matches against Harvard and Sacred Heart. The Nittany Lions have not lost a conference match since 2008.
5. No Ball State match
For the first time since 1980, Ball State and Penn State will not play a regular season match against each other. The Nittany Lions and the Cardinals, the two winningest non-West Coast teams in NCAA men’s volleyball history, in recent years have played at least two non-conference matches against each other during the regular season. In addition, historically throughout the 1980s and 1990s the winner of the Ball State-Penn State match received the unofficial title of being the best volleyball team east of the Mississippi River. Penn State coach Mark Pavlik said Thursday that an obstacle preventing the teams from playing in 2012 was the EIVA expanding to a 14-match conference schedule. He also said Ball State and Penn State struggled to find an open date that could have been part of a larger road trip for either team. Despite not playing Ball State, Penn State will play four matches against MIVA schools, including road matches versus Lewis and Loyola.
Penn State’s regular season schedule
7 p.m. Jan. 14 at Ohio State
8 p.m. Jan. 20 at Loyola
8 p.m. Jan. 21 at Lewis
5 p.m. Jan. 27 vs. Stanford (at Ohio State Invitational)
5 p.m. Jan. 28 vs. University of the Pacific (at Ohio State Invitational)
7:30 p.m. Feb. 3 vs. Mount Olive
7:30 p.m. Feb. 4 vs. Cal Baptist
7 p.m. Feb. 10 vs. Rutgers-Newark*
7 p.m. Feb. 11 vs. NJIT*
7 p.m. Feb. 17 at Harvard*
4 p.m. Feb. 18 at Sacred Heart*
7 p.m. Feb. 24 vs. Princeton*
7 p.m. Feb. 25 vs. George Mason*
7 p.m. March 3 vs. Ohio State
10 p.m. March 8 at Pepperdine
10 p.m. March 9 at USC
7 p.m. March 17 at St. Francis*
7 p.m. March 23 at NJIT*
7 p.m. March 24 at Rutgers-Newark*
7 p.m. March 30 at Princeton*
7 p.m. March 31 at George Mason*
7 p.m. April 6 vs. Sacred Heart*
7 p.m. April 7 vs. Harvard*
9 p.m. April 13 at BYU
9 p.m. April 14 at BYU
7 p.m. April 21 vs. St. Francis*
*Denotes EIVA match
All times EST