The Penn State men’s volleyball team was playing “January volleyball” to start to its home schedule, but it played well enough.
The No. 6 Nittany Lions struggled through the middle two sets but found its game again in the fourth and finished off No. 12 Lewis on Friday night in Rec Hall’s South Gym.
Behind 18 kills from Tom Comfort, Penn State prevailed 25-22, 25-23, 20-25, 25-18.
“We definitely don’t want to lose on our home court,” Comfort said. “I’m going do everything I can, try to lead these guys.”
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Aaron Russell added nine kills, while eight came from Peter Russell and seven from Matt Seifert. Comfort and Connor Curry each had a dozen digs and Peter Russell posted 10, and Taylor Hammond gave out 43 assists.
Geoff Powell led the Flyers (1-5) with 13 kills along with six blocks, Eric Fitterer added 12 kills and 11 blocks and Jay Petty recorded 10 kills and 10 digs. Eric Butch led with 12 digs and BJ Boldog had 38 assists.
The play was solid at times, shaky in others, as the two teams showed off their power.
“We’re playing January volleyball right now,” head coach Mark Pavlik said. “Pitchers are ahead of hitters. Servers are ahead of passers right now. But the effort we’re giving, we’re creating. As long as we’re creating, we’re going to get real good at finishing by the end of the year.”
The effort plays had quite a few highlights, including Aaron Russell nearly diving into the bench to keep the ball alive, moments after a pancake save by Curry, with the point later won by a Comfort kill.
It was one of numerous long rallies for the teams. The teams combined for 102 digs, including 54 for the Nittany Lions (3-1), which was almost as many as they had in their previous two matches, with Ohio State and Hawaii, combined.
“Tonight we won most of the long rallies, we won most of the plays it was just by sheer effort we kept the ball in play,” Pavlik said. “We’re going to be a tough team for people to run away from, score-wise, and we’re always going to have that ability to get some separation maybe the second time through with our servers.”
Penn State also had some runs that weren’t so highlight-worthy, including getting outblocked 14-3 in the middle of two sets.
For the match the Flyers held a 17.5-9 blocking advantage. The Nittany Lions were held to .195 hitting with 25 errors, though only nine of the errors were unforced.
“We watched some tape and had some schemes we were trying to do,” said Lewis coach Dan Friend, whose team hit .154. “I thought the guys did a nice job of winning that. … In some chaotic points, Penn State transitioned them and we didn’t. That’s the difference between two or three points in those first two games and we might be up 2-1 going into the fourth.”
While the blocking was helping the Flyers, they also were getting some big swings from Powell and Fitterer, who were especially hurting the Nittany Lions with their swings in those same middle two sets.
It was going so well for Powell in the third, he even had a kill without touching the ball with his hands. An overpass from the Lions sailed toward Powell and just as he began his swing the ball hit the net, bouncing away from his hand but finding his forehead, with the ball rebounding back over and down on the other side.
“That’s when you know everything’s going right for them,” Pavlik said. “It’s not going to last that long. If they’re getting those kills then, eventually the pendulum’s going to swing back to more rational play.”
After Lewis took the third, closing the frame by taking 10 of the last 15 points helped by three blocks and three Penn State errors, the Nittany Lions bounced back in the fourth. They took off on a 7-0 run riding the serving of Turko, capping the run with an ace.
“I was really tired at the end,” said Turko, who also had four blocks. “I was thanking the other team that they called a timeout because I was really out of breath.”
Penn State also got its offense in order, getting blocked just once by the Flyers.
After struggling through a rough third frame, Comfort also helped seal the final set victory with three kills on seven error-free swings.
“I just try to do everything I can,” Comfort said. “I try to always get kills.”
Notes: The match was the first of four for the Nittany Lions to be played in Rec Hall’s South Gym, due to scheduling conflicts. Friday’s match was moved because of a wrestling match, while the other three matches were changed because of gymnastics meets. … The Nittany Lions are back in the main gym Tuesday, hosting another MIVA program, Loyola-Chicago to continue an eight-match homestand. … Lewis was playing the sixth of seven matches on the road to open the season, with each of the first six against ranked teams.