Lewis middle Mitchem unstoppable in NCAA opening round sweep of Penn State

Photo courtesy of Lewis athletics

Tyler Mitchem kept his answer short and simply when asked in the postmatch news conference if he had just played the best match of his life.

It was a polite and humble response of yes from the All-American middle attacker.

There wasn’t much elaboration needed — his play on the court said it all.

Mitchem finished with a match-high 14 kills and zero errors on a .700 attack percentage as the No. 3 seed Lewis swept the No. 6 seed Penn State 25-23, 27-25, 25-20 in the NCAA Tournament opening round on Tuesday in Columbus, Ohio.

Mitchem entered the NCAA Tournament third in the nation with a .478 attack percentage and already having double-digit kills in nine matches this season. It also was the best hitting percentage for the Ryan Millar Award finalist since having 16 kills on a .889 attack percentage in a sweep against Ball State in March.

Along with his offensive performance, Mitchem had five blocks and delivered the match-winning ace to secure a berth in the NCAA Tournament semifinals.


All-American setter Kevin Kauling guided the offense to commit six errors the entire match and out-hit the Nittany Lions .460 to .277. The Flyers did not hit below .390 in any of the games, including having a match-best .556 attack percentage in the third game.

Outside attacker Ryan Coenen, the reigning two-time MIVA Player of the Year, finished with 12 kills. In addition, middle attacker TJ Murray had seven kills and zero errors on a .700 attack percentage.

Penn State in the loss finished with seven aces — four more aces than Lewis.

All-American opposite Cal Fisher, a finalist for the National Server of the Year, had two aces along with a team-high 13 kills. All-American outside attacker Brett Wildman also had two aces and 10 kills.

Lewis out-blocked Penn State 8 to 2 with Kauling having a match-high six blocks.

Kauling also led the MIVA champions with 10 digs.

The Flyers rallied from Penn State leads in both the second and third game to complete the sweep.

Penn State led 11-6 in the third game, but Lewis responded with a 6-1 run that featured three kills from Mitchem to tie the game. The Flyers also trailed 16-15 before retaking the lead and closing out the match on a 4-1 run.

Lewis in the second game trailed by as many as four points before rallying back and had an unsuccessful game-point opportunity that resulted in overtime. Penn State fought off two more game-points in overtime before Coenen converted on a game-winning kill to end a 35-second rally.

Mitchem and Coenen each had five kills and zero errors in the opening-game victory. In addition, Coenen delivered the game-winning kill on an out-of-system ball through a triple block to give the Flyers a one-game lead.

The Flyers with this opening round victory extend their winning streak to 13 matches — the longest active winning streak in the nation.

Lewis will now advance to play the No. 2 seed BYU in the NCAA Tournament semifinals on Thursday. This will be one of the first meetings in the NCAA Tournament between the two programs since Lewis beat BYU to win the 2003 national championship.

Penn State’s loss continues the recent struggles of the EIVA to get out of the NCAA Tournament opening round. An EIVA team has not reached the NCAA Tournament semifinals since Penn State achieved the feat in 2015.