PRINCETON, N.J. -- The Penn State men’s volleyball team survived and advanced Thursday, April 18, in the EIVA semifinals.
The Nittany Lions shot to a fast lead early in the fifth set and prevailed over George Mason 25-22, 23-25, 25-16, 18-25, 15-9 at Princeton’s Dillon Gymnasium.
The loss exacted some revenge on the Patriots (17-9), who took both regular-season contests 3-0.
“We played one of the most disciplined matches of the season,” said Nittany Lion coach Mark Pavlik. “When you play a team three times, we know that you’re going to good data on them, they got good data on us, I thought we made enough plays defensively, and we finished plays early. I thought our transition confidence just grew as the game wore on. And then on top of that I thought our serving pressure was pretty good.”
After missing the EIVA championship match last season, Penn State (15-14) returns to the title tilt to meet Princeton, a 3-0 winner against Saint Francis in the other semifinal.
The Nittany Lions got a huge performance from freshman Brett Wildman, who put down a career-high 22 kills on .556 hitting, adding seven digs and three aces.
“I think it’s a mindset thing,” Wildman said. “You kind of know that you’re going to put this ball away, it doesn’t really matter who’s on the other side. Pav’s been telling me to trust my arm all year, and I think I trusted my arm tonight.”
EIVA Newcomer of the Year Henrik Falck Lauten added 13 kills and a match-high nine digs. Cole Bogner directed the offense to a .407 hitting night with his career-high 57 aces, Matthew McLaren also had three aces to accompany nine kills and Jason Donorovich posted a match-high five blocks.
Penn State caught a little momentum late in the fourth set, turning back four set points before the Patriots could finally close out the frame, and used that to burst to a 5-1 lead to open the short fifth set.
“We knew it was going to be tough,” said Hayden Wagner, who led the Patriots with 16 kills and three aces. “It’s Penn State – our biggest rival – we knew it was going to be a dogfight. We talked about that the whole match. Came out and we’re down 5-1 in that fifth set and we knew – we trusted each other and we just knew that we could battle back and work, and we just didn’t execute.”
The Nittany Lions had only played in two five-set matches all season – losses to BYU and USC – but didn’t have their confidence shaken.
“You don’t look back and say, ‘Gee, I wish I would have,’” Pavlik said. “You look at where you are now and you plan for the future. You use the past as – if you can replay it, replay it the way you want it to turn out. You’re giving yourself some mental reps there.”
Penn State delivered nine aces as a team, and now have a shot at the program’s EIVA-record 33 rd conference crown.
George Mason also got 12 kills from Kyle Barnes, 42 assists and five digs from Luis Velez, five digs from Will Calaman and four blocks from Jack Reese.
“They were the better team tonight,” coach Jay Hosack said. “Beating them twice in a season’s good, but when playoffs come around it’s anybody’s game. They came in motivated to right those wrongs in their eyes, and we did not respond.”
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“We kept Mason under some heavy service pressure the entire game, and I thought our passers really rose to the challenge to fight off some great serves that they were putting on us too as the match wore on.”
“It just shows how we don’t back down. I don’t think we care that we’re first-year guys, it doesn’t matter, we’ve always wanted to win.”
“(Their libero, Cal Fisher) was a big liability for them last time we played against them. Somehow he’s figured out how to be a world-class passer. Hat’s off to him. Wildman was moving around and I thought he made some adjustments. I looked at my outside hitter midway through Game 5, I said, ‘Hey, as he hit cross-court yet?’ He said, ‘He’s field-goaling me. There’s nothing I can do.’”
“Brett Wildman came out and had a hell of a night, played very well, and we just couldn’t stop him. I just think he, along with Henrik (Falck Lauten), we knew he was an emotional guy, emotional leader on that team, when those two are rolling it’s tough to stop them and we just couldn’t slow them down too well.”