Q&A with Penn State men’s volleyball coach Mark Pavlik

There will be an international flavor to the start of the preseason for Penn State.

The defending-EIVA champions Nittany Lions will open their preseason on Thursday playing host to a five-team tournament featuring college teams from Canada and Mexico.

Penn State begins the three-day tournament against St. Francis at 7:30 p.m. Thursday before it plays Dalhousie on Friday and Monterey Tech on Saturday. Along with its weekend matches against Penn State, the Canadian school Dalhousie and the Mexican school Monterey Tech will also play Ohio State during the tournament.

Off the Block last week conducted an interview with Penn State coach Mark Pavlik to discuss his team beginning its fall training camp and the preseason international tournament. Check out the transcript of the Off the Block’s interview below.


Off the Block: It’s the start of the fall preseason for most teams around the nation. What is this time of the year like for you guys at Penn State as you prepare for the 2014 season?

Mark Pavlik, Penn State: It’s one where we ask a lot of questions and try to come up with some answers. See who is where we thought they’d be and who isn’t, and what our starting formulation for the group is going to be. And to make sure we are comfortable with our starting point here in the fall and use that as the basis for which to evolve everything else in the season. It’s not anything everyone else isn’t doing. It’s just trying to get to know our guys and how do the pieces fit together.

OTB: Have there been any players at the start of training camp that have stood out and shown more improvement during the offseason than you expected?

MP: I’m really happy with the work our guys put in with our strength and conditioning coach Mike Chapman. I think they are in some of the best shape that our teams have ever been in at this point in the year. And not only from a strength and conditioning perceptive but I think they’ve really got to know each other as a team through what Mike had them do for the first three to four weeks of the year.

OTB: This year you have a lot of returning starters coming back. How different is a preseason when you have a lot of starters returning as opposed to a couple years ago when you had a bunch of starting positions up for grabs?

MP: I don’t think it’s a matter of starters. The numbers on the team, it really boils down to your experience level. We may have six of our seven starters returning. However, the other 10 to 12 kids on the team are relatively new so this has to be a little bit of a slower process for the team to ensure that we get the competition level we need to get to in our practice gym throughout the year. The only way to do that is to that is slow it down a little bit to make sure the new guys are all on the same page.

OTB: Coach you have an international tournament starting Thursday. Can you talk a little bit about how you went about forming this kind of preseason tournament?

MP: [Penn State assistant coach] Jay [Hosack] has been running with it and gives us something to allow us to compete in the fall and work within the NCAA structure for Division I where we can’t travel more than 400 miles away. We’re fortunate that we have some great volleyball north of us in Canada with teams like Dalhousie and Laval and York and those teams. They’re starting their season so they don’t mind coming down here and playing for three nights, and we get a chance to put out different line-ups in there. Jay has really taken on the work to make sure that we get teams in here. That’s the way it’s evolved. To be honest, we tried to pattern it out of what UC Irvine did a few years ago with their international tournament and couple that with what we see at the Outrigger.

OTB: Talking about these international teams coming in, your coaching staff had a lot of opportunities this summer to see the international game with USA Volleyball. How beneficial have those experiences been to your teams?

MP: It’s really good from them to go out there. [Penn State assistant coach] Colin [McMillan] was the head coach of that youth team and he got to do things his way. I’m sure he tried things that we do here, and he found out what would work for him and what doesn’t work and found different ways to come at a situation from a different perspective. Jay got a chance to work with [Ohio State coach] Pete [Hanson] and pick his brain. Jay has been a head coach so he knows actually the things that head coaches have to deal with. I think any time you can get different perspectives and be forced into situations that are outside of your comfort zone you think more critically about things. … They are coming back with some great ideas. I think it really is a renewal. I know when I’ve been involved in those same situations I’ve come back a little more energized and renewed. I think that’s what I’m seeing with them.