It’s been a chaotic last two days for coach Mark Pavlik and his Penn State team.
Within a span of 24 hours the team went from winning its NCAA-record 16th consecutive conference championship on its home court to having to travel across the country for a NCAA Tournament match on Tuesday.
Check out the Off the Block’s interview with Pavlik from Sunday as the coach the discusses his team getting the No. 5 seed for the NCAA Tournament and what it will have to do beat Lewis in its play-in match.
Off the Block: Take me through what this is like for you and your team right now. You win the EIVA Tournament and then less than 24 hours later you’re having to travel to Chicago for a NCAA Tournament match on Tuesday.
Mark Pavlik: It’s certainly has thrown some logistical curves at us, just to try to organize the travel party and trying to get information out to everyone so they know the who, how, how many. It’s been a little bit of a challenge, but you know what, for so many years we’ve been wanting to have expansion occur. We are on the verge of some really good things happening.
OTB: Looking at your play-in match, you’re the No. 5 seed playing the No. 4 seed Lewis. What’s your thoughts on playing the Flyers?
MP: When we played them about a month-and-half ago at their place it was a knock-down, drag-out heavy weight fight. There were balls being hit in that Lewis gym that I literally walked out of that match with the feeling that this is the way heavyweight boxers must feel. Going toe-to-toe, there was so much physicality with that match. It was a fun match to play and a fun match to watch. I would expect even more of that. A Dan Friend coached team, he’s coming at you and coming at you. They want to wear you down, and we try to do the same thing. I think it’s just going to be an outstanding match for the men’s volleyball community to watch.
OTB: This is the second year in a row you have been seeded below a MIVA team that you beat in the regular season. I know it’s a four-five match-up so you’d play each other regardless, but were you surprised you got the No. 5 seed and Lewis was the No. 4?
MP: Eventually it boils down to two things. One, you realize that if you want to win a nationally championship you are going to have to play two to three worthy opponents in this current set-up. You look at the criteria, you look at the NCAA committee and you trust that they do their job to the best of their ability. Our NCAA committee is committed to men’s volleyball. They certainly don’t take the easy way out. They take a very sincere approach to their responsibilities. If in their summation we were No. 6 or No. 2, it’s something we can’t control so I’m not even going to worry about.
OTB: Talking about the bracket, what’s your feeling a non-West Coast school like Lewis getting the at-large bid?
MP: Lewis has had an outstanding season. You look at the criteria and it is what it is. Again, I keep going back to our committee. They are out there. The criteria is known. There are different ways to skin a cat. I think that Lewis’ efforts paid off for them this year and that’s good to see for Lewis. I also think now this might help us with trying to get more future regional play. It’s an exciting time for men’s volleyball.
OTB: Can you talk a little bit about the play of All-American outside attacker Aaron Russell, especially during the second half of the season?
MP: The athletic volleyball learning curve, which we thought would be steep for him was. It was just a continued maturation for him. I honestly don’t think Aaron sat down and said I got to do better. Aaron has just really kept improving at a pretty phenomenal way during the year. You got look at that and see last year he was a middle blocker moving to the outside. He went through the summer with the junior national team as an outside hitter. He played internationally in that position and came back, and fully immersed himself in that position. I think he’s figured out the way for him to do things that’s enabled his improvement to occur naturally throughout the year.
OTB: What do you feel is the one key you need to do well to beat Lewis?
MP: The one big thing — and it doesn’t matter whether it’s Lewis, Loyola, BYU, Stanford or Erskine — we got to be deadly in transition. When we get a chance to put a ball away, we got to make it count. And I don’t necessarily mean just the third contact. You got to create some with a quality first contact. In creating opportunities, they aren’t always pretty with the first contact so a lot of that is going to fall on our second contact.