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

Penn State coach Mark Pavlik and several Nittany Lion players participated in the NCAA Tournament media day on Wednesday in Los Angeles.

Penn State after winning its 15th consecutive EIVA championship during the weekend to qualify for the NCAA Tournament will play the No. 1 seed BYU in the semifinals Thursday.

Check out what Pavlik and his players had to say during their media day news conference about facing BYU and the chances of pulling off an upset.

Mark Pavlik, Penn State coach: It’s always nice to be back here. I would like to thank UCLA for taking responsibility with putting on the men’s championships. It’s been an interesting year for us. We have had some relative youth at some key positions. The learning curve has been pretty normal for them. I think that we are playing the best volleyball that we have played all year in the last three or four weeks. We’re just looking forward to seeing what we can do against the Cougars tomorrow night.

Media question: Coach can talk about the availability of video footage that you have for BYU and they have for you?

Mark Pavlik:I think the interesting thing is with the media savvy-ness of these institutions, everybody has their matches on a pay-per-view basis or for free, so we are in a position now where the next step is to get a true video exchange across the country so that we are not trying to pull things off the media angle – where we can just sit with the coaches’ angle. BYU can get enough off of us too. And that’s the way that it should be. I think it’s a good thing.”

Media question: Coach how does your team feel on playing the No. 1-ranked team?

Mark Pavlik: I’m sure we sit there and say, “They are number one for a reason.” But, I also think you go through your season wanting to be in this position. Let’s play the best that we can play and play at a high level and see what happens. I think there is always that – how good are they? – especially when you don’t get to see them as often and as regularly as some other people that we get to see.”


Media question: Can you talk a little bit about Loyola and that team making its first NCAA Tournament appearance in program history.

Mark Pavlik: They’ve had a solid foundation when they first came in to the NCAA in the mid-1990s. Shane [Davis] was part of that early group that played for Gordon Mayforth. They’ve just carried on the tradition there. The Chicago-land area is a hot bed for volleyball and Loyola takes it very seriously. He’s got great support from his administration. They have a great new facility which this event will be at next year. They are drawing in kids from all over – East Coast kids, West Coast kids, the Midwest and Chicago-land area kids. Shane’s doing a great job coaching them, and you’re going to hear a lot more about that program over the next several years.

Media question:what Penn State must do to win in the semifinals?

Mark Pavlik: We have to pass and serve and try to stay in the system as much as possible. We know that they have a very explosive offensive machine. They’ll win the warmup hitting drill. They’ll have some kills that every in the gym will take a deep breath and say `Wow, did you see that?’ We have to maintain our aggressiveness. We have to knock them off the net and make them predictable. I don’t care if they are flashing a sign saying that Taylor Sander is getting this next set, we still have to find a way to slow them down and stop them. Whether he is on the net or 12 feet off the net, Taylor is a good hitter. Ben Patch really has had a great freshman year. [Josue] Rivera has been vastly underrated because of those two. Devin Young and Russ [Lavaja] in the middle do some great things. And we haven’t even talked about [Ryan] Boyce and [Tyler] Heap, their two setters. It doesn’t matter who is on the court. They keep that thing running. Jaylen Reyes does a great job as libero. We’re just going to try and slow them down a little bit.

Media question: Can you talk about your freshman setter Taylor Hammond and the job he’s done this season.

Mark Pavlik: Taylor has really taken everything in stride. He redshirted last year, so he maybe kind of saw how this is supposed to end type of thing. But until you throw him in and the boards light up and the referees blow the whistle and there are other uniforms on the other side of that net, you just never know how he is going to respond. Then you throw that in with the regular grind of the season. You’ve had your ups and downs, but how do the freshmen handle the downs and how do they handle the ups? It’s been a testament to Taylor saying that `I’ve got it, this is my team and I’m more and more comfortable with it.’ We are really pleased with him. I think he’s got a bright future. He’s going to be surrounded by the majority of the same hitters next year. So everything that we get from him this year is just a plus. The kid is competitive. He has won every place that he has been. I foresee that continuing.

Media question: What’s some of the advantages of having NCAA Tournament experience like your team has?

Tom Comfort, outside attacker: It’s definitely an advantage in some ways. Especially because Coach Pavlik knows our roles in some ways and can keep us calm. We have been there, in that aspect. I’m a senior, and Aaron [Russell] is only a sophomore. So, he’s only had one other year and that was last year. It’s kind of a young team like Pavlik said. There’s not too much experience for us on the floor, but that could play to our advantage.

Media question: What do you have to do to beat BYU in the semifinals?

Peter Russell, outside attacker: We are going to have to win the serving and passing battle. I think BYU definitely has a strong offensive team. They are very dangerous, but we can be very dangerous, too. I think that it just comes down to serving and passing.

Media question: Can you talk a little bit about the need to play with high energy?

Aaron Russell: I think that with all of our experience and knowing the situation we are in – playoffs and everything. We have to turn around quickly and refocus. We had some trouble early in the year, and that improved a lot. So, that would be huge because BYU is a good team. We know that they’ll run a few points off us, but we need to minimize that.

Media question: Aaron, can you talk about your position adjustment this year from middle attacker to outside attacker?

Aaron Russell: Going from middle to outside is definitely different, with passing and everything. Different attacks from the outside. One blocker to two and sometimes three. I definitely have a ways to go, now that the coaches are helping me out a lot. Whenever I need something, they are always there. I definitely want to improve and it should be fun.

Media question: Do you prefer one position over another?

Aaron Russell: It really depends on how I’m doing – if I’m having a good day on the outside, then I’ll want to play there. But if it’s a bad day, then I’ll wish I was in the middle. It helps you learn the game all over again.”