STANFORD, Calif. – The 2015 Penn State men's volleyball season came to a close in the NCAA national semifinals as the fifth-seeded Nittany Lions (21-10) fell short in a 3-1 (20-25, 25-22, 16-25, 20-25) loss to No. 1 Lewis (27-3) Thursday evening at Maples Pavilion in Stanford, Calif.
"Tonight I think they [Lewis] took it to another level," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "We just didn't have an answer for their left side attack." Pavlik said.
Despite the outcome, the Nittany Lions proved to be a resilient squad, turning an 0-6 start in the beginning of the year into a 17-match winning streak heading into tonight's matchup.
Three Nittany Lions led the offense with double figure kills, led by 15 kills from three-time EIVA Player of the Year and two-time first team AVCA All-American Aaron Russell.
Sophomore Chris Nugent finished second on the team with 12 kills and a team-high nine digs, while redshirt senior Nick Goodell posted 11 kills and seven digs.
"It's been an unbelievable experience," said redshirt senior Connor Curry, who had seven digs. "I came here for the people mostly, the people on the team and the coaching staff. That's what I've been around for the past five years, and I wouldn't trade it for anything," Curry said.
Penn State jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the first set for an early advantage. The Flyers answered back with a 6-0 run to take over a three-point lead, 7-4. The Nittany Lions responded with a 5-3 stretch, capped off by a kill from Nugent and an ace from Goodell to pull within one, 10-9. Lewis ended the run with a kill, but Nugent and Callaway put away two kills in between one from the Flyers to remain within one, 12-11.
Lewis followed with a 5-1 streak to build the Flyer advantage back to five, 17-12. Goodell and Russell cut off the momentum with a kill and an ace, 17-14, but Lewis answered with a 5-3 stretch to remain on top by five, 22-17. A Flyer attack error and a kill from Goodell shaved the gap to three, 22-19, but a Penn State attack error and a Lewis block made it set point, 24-19. Lewis served into the net to give the Nittany Lions an opportunity for a comeback, but the Flyers followed with a kill to take set one, 25-20.
Lewis jumped out to a 5-2 lead in the second set, but Goodell put down two consecutive kills to bring Penn State within one, 5-4. A PSU service error held up the momentum, but Russell sparked a 3-1 spurt that vaulted the Nittany Lions on top, 8-6. Lewis responded with a kill and a block to tie the score, 8-8, but Penn State responded with a 4-1 streak to widen the advantage to three, 12-9, forcing the Flyers to call a timeout.
Seifert came out of the break with an ace, 13-9, but the Flyers came battling back with a 4-2 stretch to narrow the gap to two, 15-13. A kill from Russell and a Lewis attack error gave the Nittany Lions a four-point cushion, 17-13. Lewis answered with a 4-2 run to arrive back within two, 19-17, prompting Penn State to call a timeout. Nugent came out of the break with a kill to open up a 4-2 stretch that kept PSU ahead by as many as four, 23-19.
Lewis looked to mount a comeback with a pair of kills, 23-21, but a kill from Goodell made it set point for the Nittany Lions, 24-21. The Flyers held off one attempt before Russell slammed a kill to secure a 25-22 win in the second set to tie the match.
The Flyers jumped out to a 7-3 lead in the third set, causing the Nittany Lions to call an early timeout. Penn State regrouped with a 3-1 strike to shave the deficit to two, 8-6, but the Flyers scored three unanswered points to move ahead, 11-6. A Lewis service error and a block from Penrose and Seifert lifted the Nittany Lions within three, 11-8. With Penn State unable to sustain the momentum, the Flyers used a 9-3 scoring streak to surge ahead by as many as nine, 20-11.
A Flyer service error and a kill from Nugent broke up the run, 20-13, but Lewis fought with a 4-3 stretch to arrive at set point, 24-16. A Penn State attack error handed the Flyers a 25-16 win in the third set.
Trailing by two in set four, 11-9, Goodell and Nugent put down back-to-back kills to tie the score, 11-11. The Flyers fired back with three unanswered points to move ahead by three, 14-11, causing the Nittany Lions to take a timeout. Lewis looked to stretch the lead with a 2-1 burst, 16-12, but Penn State responded with a 3-1 strike to climb within two, 17-15.
PSU could not settle into a rhythm as Lewis used a 5-2 stretch to make it 22-18. Russell and Goodell came charging back with a pair of kills to keep within two, 22-20, but three more Flyer kills gave Lewis a 25-20 win in the fourth set and a 3-1 win in the match.
"Tonight, I think we created opportunities and I thought we got some good swings, but we could not score points easily against them [Lewis]," Pavlik said.
The Nittany Lions return home to Happy Valley having made their 17th consecutive appearance in the NCAA national semifinals. Looking ahead, Penn State will be the host of next year's 2016 NCAA national championship with Rec Hall home to the week-long event.