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Penn State Snaps Mason's 11-Match Conference Winning Streak in a Five-Set Battle

Penn State Snaps Mason's 11-Match Conference Winning Streak in a Five-Set Battle

Story Courtesy of George Mason

FAIRFAX, Va. – George Mason squared off with Penn State for the 122nd time on Saturday night in front of a sellout crowd at the Recreation Athletic Complex. In a match that saw both teams hit below .200, the Nittany Lions emerged victorious 3-2.

Senior Brian Negron recorded his 3,559th career assist in the second set to move him into second all-time in program history. Negron guided three players to double-digit kills on Saturday night and now sits at 3,588 for his career – 269 shy of tying Kriss Eglitis for the all-time lead.

Junior Kyle Barnes recorded a match high 12 kills and was complimented by RS-senior Christian Malias and sophomore Hayden Wagner also eclipsing double-digits. It was the 10th time Malias tallied 10 or more kills in a match this season, and Wagner maintained his team lead of 13.

Malias now holds sole possession of 12th place on the program's career kills list in the rally-scoring era. He is now chasing his assistant coach, Joe Norton, for next on the list.

Sophomore Bryce Gatling led the Patriots with two solo blocks and totaled five on Saturday night. The Norfolk, Va. native's performance put him at second on the team in total blocks (50.0) and has done it playing in just 50 of Mason's 91 sets this season.

"Losing is obviously never fun, but it didn't hurt us in the grand scheme of things since we're still in the driver's seat to host the EIVA Tournament," head coach Jay Hosack said. "We held Penn State to an .069 attack percentage, but the real difference tonight was their service errors. They were really low and their service aces were really high. When you combine those things with our service errors and lack of service aces, that will be the difference in the game. I'm real proud of my guys and the fight they showed, we're not done yet and sometimes a loss is a good loss."

RS-freshman Jack Reese got the Patriots' first kill of the match to put the score at 2-2. Not too long later, Penn State went on a 3-0 run to go up 11-8 and give themselves a large enough cushion to maintain the lead the rest of the set. Mason battled and cut the deficit to 17-16 with a Malias kill, but Penn State caught fire with an 8-1 run to close out the set, including taking the final four points for a 25-17 victory.

The Patriots found themselves in an early hole down 5-1 in the second set, but a 3-0 run behind a kill and an ace from Wagner made it a 5-4 PSU lead. Mason tied the score at 10-10 to set up the teams trading points to the 14-14 mark. Not long after a Nittany Lion timeout, the Patriots went on a 3-0 run to take a 17-14 lead and force PSU head coach Mark Pavlik to use his second timeout of the set. Mason rode a 3-0 run in the later stages to go up 22-16 and held on to tie the match up, winning set two 25-19.

Penn State got off to a fast start in set number three, enjoying leads of 9-5 and 11-6. The highlight of the frame for Mason was a 7-1 run to flip the score from down 15-12 and go up 19-16. Reese and Wagner each had a block and kill, as well as Sam Greenslade pitching in a kill and a service ace during that stretch. The Patriots were the first team to score 20 points and led 20-18, but Penn State was strong down the stretch and emerged victorious at 25-21.

Gatling registered his second solo block of the match to begin a fourth set that had no clear team in charge though the 7-7 mark. Mason showed first sights of taking over with a 4-0 run that had kills from Gatling and Wagner. The Green and Gold kept up the fast-pace offense and took a 15-12 lead on Wagner's third kill of the set that forced a Nittany Lion timeout. Pavlik made the necessary adjustments as Penn State broke the huddle with a 5-1 run to go up 17-16. It would be the last lead Pen State would have in the stanza as Mason countered with a 4-0 run to go up 20-17, and held sturdy with a 25-21 win that was capped off by Malias and Reese picking up a block.

In the fifth and final set, Mason drew first blood with Wagner's seventh block of the match to go up 6-4. Penn State battled back and led 8-7 when the teams switched benches, and built off the momentum by increasing the lead to 13-8. Mason refused to go down without a fight and fought off a couple match points, but the third time was the charm for the NIttany Lions as the final frame would read 15-12 and see Penn State win the dramatic five-set match.

The loss drops Mason to 11-1 in conference play, but they still hold a one match lead over Harvard (10-2). Conveniently, the Crimson will be next weekend's opponent in a back-to-back that will likely decide who hosts the EIVA Tournament. Friday night's match is scheduled for 7 p.m. with Senior Night happening the next day at 3 p.m.

BEYOND THE BOX SCORE
• In addition to his 10 kills, Hayden Wagner notched seven blocks, setting a new career high.
• For just the second time this season, Mason lost when its attack percentage was higher than its opponents'.
• Jack Reese factored into six blocks on Saturday night, increasing his team leading total to 9.0 from this weekend's matches – an average of 1.12.