May 6, 2010

By Jake Curtis
Special to

PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Penn State's postseason experience paid major dividends in the NCAA men's volleyball semifinals on Thursday, as the third-seeded Nittany Lions reversed a regular-season loss to Cal State Northridge by beating the No. 2-seeded Matadors 3-0 (30-21, 30-23, 30-28).

On April 10 at Northridge, the Matadors (23-10) had handed Penn State a 3-0 defeat, but things were much different in the rematch at Stanford's Maples Pavilion. The Nittany Lions (24-7) are ranked only 12th nationally, but are playing in the NCAAs for the 12th consecutive year. Seven of the current Nittany Lions players, including two starters, played when the team won a national championship in 2008. Northridge is ranked No. 3 in the country, but was playing in the NCAA tournament for the first time in 17 years. The inexperience showed as the Nittany Lions and their star players controlled the critical portions of all three games.

"I think for sure the experience makes a difference," said Penn State senior All-American Max Lipsitz. "I remember my freshman and sophomore years, it can be overwhelming. Having been here before really settled your nerves. It makes you realize it's just a volleyball match."

Penn State will play for the championship on Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. against the winner of Thursday's other semifinal between Stanford and Ohio State. The title game will be televised by ESPN2 and ESPN360.

Senior Will Price and sophomore Joe Sunder had 18 kills apiece for the Nittany Lions, redshirt sophomore setter Edgardo Goas had 49 assists, and junior libero Dennis Del Valle picked up 17 digs, all in just three games. Price's effective serving and Lipsitz's blocking (2 blocks, 7 block assists) were also key factors. It was a complete reversal of the previous meeting.

"I think this is the best prepared we've been for a match in a long time," Penn State coach Mark Pavlik said. "We knew just what to expect from all their hitters. We just played with a passion and a poise and a pride I've been looking for in the Nittany Lions all season."

Middle blocker Jacek Ratajczak had 15 kills for the Matadors, but it was not nearly enough.

Price's serving helped the Nittany Lions control the middle part of the first game, giving them a 13-8 lead. The Matadors regained some momentum Ratajczak's hitting to pull within 15-14, but Sunder had a couple of kills that put the Nittany Lions back in control.

After Price's serving helped Penn State take a 24-18 lead, Lipsitz had two blocks to make it 27-19 and added a kill to give the Nittany Lions a hefty 28-20 lead. A Tanner Nua error provided the final point in Penn State's 30-21 first-game win. Price was a major factor in the second game as well. With the score tied at 13-13, Price delivered four kills to help put Penn State ahead, 19-15. Sunder added three kills down the stretch as Penn State dominated the latter stages of the second game, winning it, 30-23.

The Nittany Lions took control of the final game from the outset, bursting out to a 9-2 lead. Northridge got itself back in the game, and forced Penn State to call a timeout after the Matadors reduced the margin to 25-21. Northridge got as close as 27-26 on a Price hitting error. But a disputed double hit gave Penn State a match point at 29-27, and, at 29-28, Sunder finished it off with his 18th kill.