Projected preseason top 10 national rankings: No. 4 Penn State

Penn State is projected by Off the Block to be No. 4 in the preseason national rankings.

Off the Block throughout December will reveal its projected men’s volleyball preseason top 10 national rankings and will profile a top-10 team each day. The Off the Block projected preseason rankings were created independently of the AVCA Coaches Poll and the Volleyball Magazine Top 10 Media Poll.

The college men’s volleyball season begins on Jan. 3 and concludes with the Final Four in May.

Check out what to know about Penn State as it enters the 2012 season.

Coach Mark Pavlik has six starters from last year returning for the upcoming season. Among these starters includes Preseason All-American outside attacker Joe Sunder and setter Edgardo Goas. Sunder, the 2011 EIVA Player of the Year, was in the nation’s top 10 last season with a 4.54 kills per game average. Goas led the EIVA and was eighth in the nation last season with an 11.03 assists per game average. The Nittany Lions also add freshman middle attacker Aaron Russell. Russell was a Volleyball Magazine top 50 high school recruit and played for the United States in the Youth World Championship this summer.

The Nittany Lions finished conference play undefeated to win their 13th consecutive EIVA championship and advanced to the Final Four. Penn State lost on its home court to Ohio State in the NCAA Tournament semifinals. Despite the loss, the Nittany Lions continued their streak of 13 Final Four appearances — the longest streak in NCAA men’s volleyball history. In addition, Penn State in non-conference play defeated several nationally ranked West Coast teams including Hawai’i and UC Santa Barbara.


Penn State will open its season on the road against the defending NCAA champions and Big Ten rival Ohio State on Jan. 14. This match will be the first time in NCAA men’s volleyball history that two non-West Coast teams that have won NCAA championships will play each other. The only thing missing from this rivalry is head coaches Mark Pavlik and Pete Hanson coming together to make their annual two-match series a trophy rivalry. For more on Penn State’s upcoming schedule, check out the team’s complete schedule breakdown.

Off the Block: Coach, how do you think the preseason went for your team?

Mark Pavlik: I think that it went as well as could have gone. I thought that all the guys and especially the freshmen from last year came back bigger, stronger and faster. We played a clean type of game. I say that with reservation because we didn’t go out and play any competition. We didn’t have that situation to look up at the scoreboard being down down one game or trailing 20-15 and have that competitive pressure up and see how we respond to that. This fall our guys worked hard, but I don’t know how that will transition over or how relaxed they were or how much pressure they were in. That is the question I have.

OTB: One of the freshman on your team this year is middle attacker Aaron Russell. A lot of volleyball fans got to see Russell play this summer at the Youth World Championships. How has been playing for you this fall?

MP: He did really well. I’m pleased with his athleticism and nimbleness. I don’t know if by the time he winds down his career here it will be at middle. Right now that is the best spot for him on this team, and Aaron was very good fall.

OTB: Joe sunder is returning for his senior season after being named an All-American and EIVA Player of the Year last season. What are you expectations for him in 2012?

MP: It would be anything you would expect from a guy that has been though the battles before, and Eddie Goas is the same way and has been through just as much in their careers. The biggest expectation is that we don’t need to worry about them. They are going to take of business, and they know that when they go to the gym that it’s getting near their last day in the Penn State gym and that they know their careers are winding down. They are at the point that it’s not the coaching staff saying you need to be better. They both get that, and that’s why they were elected team captains. The biggest compliment I can give is that I don’t have to worry about them. They know what they have to do.

OTB: Your team last year won its 13th consecutive EIVA championship. You haven’t lost a conference match since 2008. Is there a team in the EIVA that can beat you this year?

MP: I’ve been around long enough to know any team can do that. If we are taking anyone lightly and not give them the respect it can happen. If they get hot and we lose and we say, “Oh my gosh, we got to be winning this,” anyone can knock us off. That is something I don’t want to underestimate. That’s the real change with success. Sometimes with success you think that you can step on the court and win and that’s the farthest from the truth. George Mason, Rutgers and Sacred Heart they wouldn’t like anything else than to shake up the EIVA, and Harvard and Princeton have kids who can play some pretty good volleyball. I don’t want to have guys who think that they can just throw on uniform and think they are going to win. You have to maintain that high standard and that’s the standard we shoot for. We can loss it’s that simple, and we are going to try like heck not to and they are going to try like heck to have us lose.

OTB: Obviously your team doesn’t live in a vaccum. One of the biggest national stories this year has been the sexual abuse scandal involving the Penn State football team. Is this situation something you have talked about with your players?

MP: We’ve talked about it. I don’t think it’s something we’ve had to hammer home, but we are all aware that we are in a really unique situation in Penn State history. What our guys have to understand is that the unfortunate events that started this is something we weren’t a part of and that we can’t let us get brushed into it. … We are all Nittany Lions, and it’s effected everyone. But our guys have to focus on what they can control and that’s their ability in the gym and doing the things that Nittany Lions are taught to do. There is a pursuit of excellence that all students are taught here at Penn State, and our guys are going to pursue that excellence. Our guys know that they are going to be looked at closer than in years past, and what we need to do is what Nittany Lions are taught and suppose to do.