UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - History tends to repeat itself, and Saturday, it did just that.
No. 1 seed Penn State rolled through third-seeded Harvard (25-16, 25-16, 25-16) to clinch its 15th straight EIVA tournament title. The Nittany Lions advance to the NCAA tournament, which starts Thursday in Los Angeles.
“We just played confidently, and we just came in and took care of business,” Penn State sophomore outside hitter Aaron Russell said. “We knew what we had to do and we did it.”
Harvard gave Penn State trouble during the regular season, sweeping the Nittany Lions in Cambridge, Mass., then taking them to five sets in University Park, Pa.
Saturday, however, was a much different story. Penn State was nearly flawless on offense, hitting .474. The team had just one hitting error in the first two sets.
Peter and Aaron Russell led the offensive charge for the Nittany Lions. Aaron had 21 kills in the team’s Thursday night semifinal win over Princeton, and finished with 10 Saturday. He was named the tournament’s most outstanding player. Peter paced Penn State against Harvard with 14 kills on just 16 swings with no errors --- an .875 hitting percentage.
Both teams had four blocks, and D.J. White guided Harvard’s offense with nine kills at a .300 clip. The Crimson hit .250.
“We were in system an awful lot,” Pavlik said. “We had them guessing, which created some seams in the block that our guys were taking advantage of.”
Harvard, on the other hand, played most of the match out of system. Crimson coach Brian Baise said the effectiveness of Penn State’s serve kept his team off balance.
The Nittany Lions had seven aces and nine service errors, while Harvard had two and 11.
“We were not in system at all,” White said. “You’re not going to win the match if you can’t get the ball to your setter.”
The consensus among Penn State players and Pavlik is that the team is playing its best volleyball of the season heading into the NCAA tournament. The Nittany Lions are 1-4 in their last four tournament appearances after winning the national title in 2008.
“In a match, especially against a team that talented, you always look for little areas you can exploit or weaknesses,” Baise said. “We couldn’t find any. That’s to their credit.”
While Penn State has been doing those kinds of things to EIVA opponents for more than a decade, Harvard made its first appearance in the conference tournament final this year. The team will return the majority of its roster, and Pavlik said he will have his hands full next year with the Crimson.
But just getting to the final wasn’t enough for Harvard. They want to win it all, and know they’ll have to go through Penn State year in and year out to do so.“
[Penn State] sets the standard for the league,” Baise said. “We want to win a league title. And we’ve had a great year, and being here in the finals is a great accomplishment, but we’re not going away thinking we got what we came for. We want to win that title.”
Nick Goodell had nine kills for Penn State, and he was named to the EIVA All-tournament team. Joining him on that list were George Mason’s Michael Kvidahl, Princeton’s Pat Schwagler, both Russell brothers and Harvard’s White and Caleb Zimmick.
Story Courtesy of Steven Petrella