Penn State’s road trip kicks off Friday night — and continues Saturday night — against a pair of Western rivals, who were also in the AVCA Top 15.
As of the weekend, No. 3 Penn State is about to face No. 12 USC.
The Trojans go into the game undefeated and have a record of 4-0; none of those wins were against ranked teams, however.
The blue-and-white is battle-proven in the fight against now-No. 10 BYU along with No. 6 Grand Canyon.
Looking back on the first four games, coach Mark Pavlik showed his pleasure with where the team started the season.
“I like what we’ve seen so far in the first two weeks of January with our attack. I really like what our passers-by are doing to battle some tough servers and to keep our attack in the system,” Pavlik said. and what our attack can do.”
A few players in particular have stepped up to the plate at the start of the new campaign for blue and white.
Senior center blocker Sam Marsh was recently named EIVA Offensive Player of the Week after his performance against Grand Canyon in which he started a perfect 12-for-12 in terms of kills and attacks.
Another player who has seen early success is senior Cole Bogner, who was named Off the Block National Setter of the Week after 72 assists, four aces and six digs against the Antelopes.
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“Cole Bogner makes some pretty good choices,” Pavlik said. “He’s trying to see where this attack will evolve this year and what he can do, what he can’t do, how fast he can go and where those limits are with his different hitters.”
Outside of senior Brett Wildman, Pavlik alternated his outside batters during the first handful of games and has seen success with the players in this move.
Sophomore center blocker Toby Ezeonu has also been a secret weapon using the blue and white in the center.
“Both Michael [Valenzi] and Michael [Kowal] played pretty well in their respective playing weekends, and I think we’re going to see pieces with Toby where he’s dominant,” said Pavlik. “With his relative inexperience in the game, there may be parts where he goes unnoticed. I think those will be Toby’s growing pains this year.
“So all in all, pretty good signs are pointing towards where we’ve started the year, and I’m really interested to see the growth of these guys over the next two weeks.”
While Pavlik looks forward to the games ahead, he has no doubts that the competition will be strong.
“This is the first Big Ten/Pac-12 challenge where all four teams come in unbeaten with at least one game,” said Pavlik. “So UCLA is good, they have some turnover in their lineup, but I think they’re coming in with some talented people. Southern California has had some turnover from their lineup, so they’re coming in with new people. ”
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Despite their talent, Pavlik realized that the youth in the western foe’s lineup could be an advantage given Penn State’s predominantly senior starting lineup.
“If you look at their team development, I would say they might be where we were two years ago,” Pavlik said. “I think they are a young talented squad and they are still trying to figure things out, but the challenge ahead for us will dominate the travel aspect of it.”
Pavlik spoke about the importance of the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge, as well as the entertainment value it brings.
“Every time you can get those four iconic logos together, the eyes go to it,” Pavlik said. “I think it’s something that has served the game well, and when you can bring the four of us together, people will watch.”
Penn State will play No. 2 UCLA on Saturday night with hopes of beating the Bruins in the AVCA Coaches Poll.
UCLA is approaching the weekend with a lone stat-sheet win — a sweep against unranked Princeton.
Pavlik said the players he has today are not the same guys who left last May and expectations the players have for the upcoming matches are high.
“We look forward to seeing what we can do with Southern California and UCLA.”
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