Q&A with Penn State at the men’s volleyball NCAA Tournament

Penn State coach Mark Pavlik and several Nittany Lion players participated in the men’s volleyball NCAA Tournament media day on Wednesday.

The No. 4 seed Penn State will play the No. 1 seed UC Irvine in the semifinals on Thursday. Check out the transcript from Penn State’s news conference.

Mark Pavlik, Penn State coach: Thanks to USC for putting on this championship. I know how difficult and time consuming it is. Weʼre excited to behere. Coming up with a team that has experienced youth outside of our two seniors here with me. Weʼve had a seasonwith our share of success and challenges throughout the year. Over the last three or four weeks in our practice gym, weʼve been practicing pretty well. Weʼre anxious to get going and looking forward to another battle with the Anteaters.It seems the last couple years with Coach Sperawʼs team and the Nitanny Lions, we usually put on a whale of a battle.

Q: Thoughts on the recent history between UCI and Penn State?

MP: When (UCI Coach) John (Speraw) got to UCI in 2005, he turned the program around. And in 2006, we were hosting and they came as a No. 1 seed and we were No. 4. We had a five-game match that will live in infamy. It was 14-13 in the fifth game and the lights went out in out in Rec Hall at 11 oʼclock with us holding the ball and a freshman getting ready to serve. The lights were out for 14-17 minutes. The lights came back, the freshman (Max Holt) served an ace and the match was over. … The next year, in 2007, we met them again in the semifinals at Ohio State. We had actually played them at spring break that year and our star setter came down and sprained an ankle in that match and never really fully recovered and we had just about hit full strength. In the ʼ07 semis, Johnnyʼs team beat us 3-1 and he went on to win the national championship then. We didnʼt get them in ʻ09, but weʼre back to seeing the Anteaters in the semifinals again.

Q: Thoughts on all four teamʼs chances to win the title?

MP: If you look at the four teams here and the seasonʼs theyʼve had, I think itʼs a flip of the coin. I think any of the four teams here can walk away with a win. I think you look at the battles that Irvineʼs been through and certainly in their last two matches when theyʼve both gone five. USC had a stretch of 18 straight wins and was playing some pretty good volleyball. Lewis had an exceptional year. Theyʼre a physical team. To go into St. Joeʼs Arena for the MIVA final and beat Ohio State in five, says a lot about the resiliency of their guys. I think weʼve been tested in the last six, eight weeks of our season and a couple of five-game matches and our IEVA final was not an easy one. So I think all four teams have had their moments of doubt and managed to fight through them. I think itʼs a coin flip.

Q: Can you comment on the competition on the West Coast compared to the east?

MP: They MPSF, without a doubt, has some of the strongest competition. However, if you look at our schedule over the last 10-12 years, weʼre playing the bulk of the MPSF schools. When we were at BYU a couple weeks ago, in their gym, they have all the MPSF logos, and I said to Ed, in your four years starting, how many of these teams did you not play (one, San Diego). The year before, your redshirt year or year before, San Diego was in our gym. Every school gets 28 dates by the NCAA. For me to tell these guys that 28 dates playing out of the 132 dates the NCAA allows us to practice and compete, 28 dates will make the difference? Thatʼs selling them short. The competition we face in our own gym is much more important than the competition we face when we come out and put on a uniform.

Q: Was Joe Sunder a project?

MP: He jumped on the team. Joe touches 12 feet. The other thing is, Pennsylvania has the longest running statesanctioned championships in the country. We started in 1933. We might not have the numbers of participants because of population, but weʼve got some coaches whoʼve been in this game a long time who coach it really well. Thereʼs a lot of kids coming up like Joe. If you start looking at the rosters of the other teams, youʼll see Pennsylvania guys too.

Q: This is your 14th straight NCAA trip. Whatʼs the key to success?

MP: The guys understand the unique challenge thatʼs in front of them and do a good job of passing it down year after year. Thereʼs a standard that they expect out of each other. The gateway to the NCAA Championships is through the EIVA for us. And I donʼt think we underestimate what comes across our schedule. The second thing that happens, is that when we get the opportunities to play MIVA and MPSF teams, whether on their home court or ours, these guys use that as a mile marker, as a chance to see where we are during the season. And we walk back into the gym after those weekends saying hereʼs where we got to get better. Itʼs a process for us that these guys understand very well and they make sure the younger guys understand that as the year goes on.


Q: You lost at Lewis early. Were you a different team then?)

MP: We were supposed to leave Rec Hall at 5:30. We left at 8 in the teeth of our first snowstorm. Travelled to South Bend to stay. By bus, this is volleyball travel. We got in at 4:30 in the morning. We played Loyola that next day. Then a 120-mile trip to Chicago that instead of being two hours was four and a half. And that was part of the weekend. Not to take anything away. Lewis kicked our butts there. Theyʼre a good, physical team that served well. They took advantage of everything that we didnʼt do well.

Q: And the trip to USC, was it a good learning trip?)

MP: Absolutely. Then we followed it up with BYU. What weʼre finding and these guys will attest to it. Weʼve found that we can play very good volleyball for about two and a half games. Itʼs not enough yet.

Q: How much does home court help in these big matches?

Joe Sunder, outside attacker: In theory it should help, with home crowd, everyone around you, your fans, trying to represent your school well. But it just comes down to how you prepare for it. Sometimes being at home you get a little too comfortable and might get socked in the mouth a little bit right away. Hopefully thatʼs something we can do. Weʼre playing that role.

Q: As a fifth-year player, you have a chance to end on such a high note. Is that weighing on your mind?

JS: I think just having guys on the team that have national championship experience is a big confidence boost for the next five years for all the guys here.

Q: What would it mean to you as a Pennsylvania guy?

JS: If you ask anyone here, itʼs something I would never have dreamed of coming in my freshman year. Pav gave me a shot as a local guy and it blossomed into a great opportunity. It would be the ultimate ending to a good story here.

Q: Is it helpful to have more California guys on the roster? Does that mean anything?

JS: Just because theyʼre from California doesnʼt mean theyʼre necessarily any better or worse. The only thing it really gives us is somewhere to have a meal when we come out here.

Q: What has to go right this weekend?

JS: We just have to play good volleyball the whole game. I feel we go up and down a lot. We just need to stay steady. We have the players to win the two games.

Q: Talk about freshman Connor Curry at libero?

JS: Heʼs been great from the beginning The weekend at Lewis and Loyola showed heʼd be a good part of this team. And on the two trips to the west coast, he was probably the best player on the trips. I have a ton of confidence in him this weekend.

Q: As a fifth-year player, you have a chance to end on such a high note. Is that weighing on your mind)

Edgardo Goas, setter: Itʼs a great opportunity to come out here and have another shot at a national title. We are more experienced now and hopefully we can carry it on to our teammates.

Q: Is it helpful to have more California guys on the roster? Does that mean anything?

EG: From time to time, they know each otherʼs tendencies, but it all comes down to that theyʼre just volleyball players. Our coaches will give us their tendencies from a scouting report. Itʼs pretty much all the same stuff.

Q: What was the attraction of Penn State?

EG: The people there. If you go there for a weekend, youʼll fall in love with the place. Everyone is so friendly and helpful. I went to a few places, but after going there, that was the place for me.

Q: Will your matches against MPSF teams earlier this year help you this weekend?

EG: Definitely. After every game you learn a little about your opponent and yourself and when we come out here and play those teams, we learn a lot about ourselves and what we need to learn and fix before we play them again.

Q: What’s the benefits of senior setters at the NCAAs?

EG: Usually the older setters do pretty well in this tournament, so hopefully that happens this weekend. I know my players pretty well, Iʼve been in this situation for a couple of years and Iʼm definitely going to use all of it to my advantage.

Transcript courtesy of USC Sports Information