UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Aaron Russell and Nick Goodell both know what to say to each other to get the other one going.
Whether it’s simple encouragement or a friendly joke, the pair feeds off each other. Thursday, the two sophomores were firing on all cylinders together.
No. 1-seeded Penn State swept fourth-seeded Princeton (25-20, 25-17, 25-23) behind Aaron Russell’s 21 kills and 12 digs and Goodell’s 14 kills to advance to the EIVA Tournament final.
The Nittany Lions will face Harvard Saturday night at 7 in Rec Hall and the winner will advance to the NCAA tournament in Los Angeles, starting May 2.
“When someone else is playing well, you just want to step your game up,” Goodell said. “And you want to try to make everyone else around you better.”
The Lions dominated the first two sets, as Russell, who hit .704 on the night, posted 18 kills in the opening frames. Princeton kept the third set closer and even led 19-17 before the match was tied at 20. The teams traded points before Russell delivered a punishing kill off the face of a Princeton player, then ended the match with an ace.
Goodell didn’t get set much in the first two sets, but ended with 14 kills and a .429 clip.
“Once we both started getting going, we developed a little moxy and a little swag,” Russell said. “And I thought that was great.”
Russell had 22 and 18 kills in two matches against Princeton during the regular season, both 3-1 Penn State wins.
“I don’t think we could have stopped him, but certainly if we had slowed him down some more, it’s a different story,” Princeton coach Sam Shweisky said.
Penn State head coach Mark Pavlik said that Goodell’s emergence in the second half of the season has balanced his team’s offense. Opponents can’t focus as much on Russell, and have to make sure their blockers are covering the whole court.
Pavlik said being physical at the net was key in Thursday’s match, and said he thought his team did a good job of overpowering the Tigers. Penn State had just three blocks, while Princeton registered 2.5, but Pavlik was still pleased with his offense. The Nittany Lions hit .398 in the match and Princeton hit .342.
“If you told me we would’ve hit .342 and lost to Penn State in three I would’ve been shocked,” Shweisky said. “This was a high offensive match.”
Princeton’s Pat Schwagler paced the Tiger’s offense with 10 kills at a .500 clip. Cody Kessel added six kills and Devin Stearns had eight.
But Shweisky said the biggest difference in the match came in serving. Penn State had seven aces and 16 errors, while Princeton had no aces and 15 errors.
The coach said serving and passing are where most matches are decided, as any collegiate team can score when they’re in system. But when an opponent’s serving can disrupt a team’s rhythm, everything changes.
“It’s a matter of who’s in system more of the time,” Shweisky said.
Penn State will now gear up for Harvard on Saturday. The two teams split during the regular season --- Harvard won at home, 3-0, while the Nittany Lions needed five sets to down the Crimson in Rec Hall.
As for his approach, Pavlik isn’t changing much from Thursday.
“We want to play big boy volleyball,” Pavlik said. “We want to say, ‘here we come, stop us.’ If you can’t stop us, we’re going to play physical.”
Story Courtesy of Steven Petrella