UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- George Mason was seeking a little redemption. Penn State was in need of a win to stay in the EIVA title chase.
But the Nittany Lions simply could not contain the No. 15 Patriots’ offense.
George Mason hit a season-best .514 while delivering eight service aces and racking up nine blocks in a 25-16, 25-23, 25-18 sweep at Rec Hall on Saturday, April 6.
“We knew there was a lot on the line,” said Patriot junior opposite Hayden Wagner, who had a match-high 13 kills and hit .550. “We want to be in the playoffs this year. We want to win EIVAs again, keep our season going.”
The result, and Saturday’s other matches, locked up the four-team field for the EIVA tournament, though where the matches will be played is still in doubt. Princeton (13-12, 11-1) clinched at least a share of the regular-season title, and can win it outright with one win in its final two matches next weekend. Penn State (13-13, 9-3) and Saint Francis (15-11, 9-3) are tied for second, and the Patriots (15-8, 8-4) are fourth. The Red Flash and Nittany Lions visit NJIT and Princeton next weekend.
“It’s handling some things on our side of the net,” said Penn State middle blocker Jason Donorovich. “Yeah, it’s unfortunate, but we have the next game in front of us. We’re worried about NJIT and Princeton right now. (Saturday’s) game is over with.”
George Mason delivered plenty of pressure with its serve, not only with its eight aces but also making just eight errors from the line and for stretches forced Penn State to be inconsistent with its offense.
“Last night (against Saint Francis) we had 10 service errors in the third game alone,” said coach Jay Hosack of a 3-0 loss to the Red Flash. “If you don’t serve that aggressively, you’re not going to take them out of system, and they’re going to run that ball down your throat every single time.”
Four different Patriots posted aces, paced by three for Sam Greenslade. The last of his service winners was struck for match point to secure a sweep of their regular-season meetings. Wagner and Kyle Barnes each had a pair of aces.
Still, it was hard to get past 43 kills, just seven errors and a .514 hitting night.
“Hitting .500 for a match? That’s Long Beach (State), Hawaii numbers there,” Hosack said, referring to the nation’s top two programs. “Against a good team like Penn State? That’s … a high number. I’m sure (Penn State coach Mark Pavlik) is going back to his office wondering, ‘What happened to us?’”
The Nittany Lions delivered a more-than-adequate .333 hitting performance, and saw 11 kills apiece for Brett Wildman and Matthew McLaren, but it wasn’t enough to stay with the Patriots. The Lions managed just two aces and two blocks, and was beat in digs 23-19.
“This loss is real easy to say, ‘OK, we’ve got to block and play defense better,’” Pavlik said. “(George Mason) kept the offensive pressure on, and we weren’t able to raise our execution level blocking or defensively to counteract that.”
The Patriots were in need of a jolt of confidence after the loss at Saint Francis, showing continued inconsistency as the postseason nears.
“We have been a team that has been kind of up and down the entire season,” Hosack said, noting the tren has not only shown in matches but even day to day in practices. “Sometimes I think we get in our own way when it comes to a match and I think we overthink things. We forget that got us to this point in the year is being disciplined by having high energy, going in there and competing and doing the best that we can do. Tonight was a just another chance for them to showcase, ‘We learned Coach, we know, we know we can compete at the highest level possible.’”
Luis Velez directed the George Mason offense with his 36 assists, adding nine digs, Greenslade added 10 kills and Langston Payne and Jack Reese each had four blocks.
Cole Bogner had 25 assists for Penn State, and Henrik Falck Lauten had seven digs.
“(We know) what we didn’t do,” said Pavlik, whose team had won its last five matches. “That equation to try and fix it is pretty simple.”