Penn State holds off UH volleyball team to win in five sets
BY Stephen Tsai
Producing the right pin numbers, fifth-ranked Penn State outlasted Hawai‘i for a 26-30, 30-26, 30-23, 28-30, 15-9 volleyball victory Friday night in the Stan Sheriff Center.
Both teams are 1-1 in the season-opening Outrigger Hotels Invitational.
The Warriors had rallied in the fourth set to force extra play in Charlie Wade’s second match as UH head coach.
But the Nittany Lions made five blocks in the first-to-15 fifth set to pull away from the Warriors.
“I’m not content with the loss,” UH libero Ric Cervantes said. “But this was a good steppingstone. There are no moral victories. But this is a good step in the right direction.”
The Warriors had few answers for the Nittany Lions’ blistering serves, steady passing and gravity-defying corner attack.
The pin hitters combined for 63 of the Nittany Lions’ 78 kills.
Opposite attacker Will Price, who can touch 11 feet 8, slammed a match-high 23 kills. Left-side hitter Tom Comfort buried 21 kills and hit .548.
And the second left-side hitter, Joe “Thunder” Sunder, took advantage of a height mismatch to hammer 19 kills. Sunder benefitted from a rotation in which he faced UH setter Nejc Zemljak in the front row. Zemljak is 6 feet 2. Sunder, who is 6-7, can touch 11 feet 11.
“Let’s face it,” PSU coach Mark Pavlik said. “In the mismatch of Sunder versus Zimljak, advantage Sunder. I thought Joe handled that mismatch really well. He doesn’t always play at 11-11, but he can touch that.”
Zemljak said: “It wasn’t just him. No. 11 (Price) had a good (match). They were hitting it high and deep. If they play like that, they’ll contend for a national championship.”
To be sure, the Warriors had their moments. Outside hitter Joshua Walker had 22 loud kills, and opposite attacker Jonas Umlauft added 19 and displayed vocal leadership. The Warriors also were able to go to their bench, with outside hitter Steven Hunt providing active defense and Brennon Dyer emerged as a quick target in the middle.
But all of the Warriors’ assets were offset by Penn State’s efficency in the serve-and-pass phase.
Sunder and Price each blistered four aces. What’s more, the Nittany Lions, who scored 44 points on their 129 serves, were able to disrupt the Warriors’ offensive rhythm at key moments.
“They served the (bleep) out of the ball,” Wade said. “And they passed really good. The tried-and-true formula is to win the pass game.”
Cervantes noted: “They had two servers (Price and Sunder) who seriously blacked out and had career nights. They just went off. What can you do? They just played well.”
The Nittany Lions also were able to absorb some of the Warriors’ best shots. Libero Dennis Del Valle came up with 17 digs.
“Dennis was not good (Thursday) night, and I thought he started off slow tonight,” Pavlik said. “He’s one of the best I’ve seen in tracking down balls. He brings energy. He gets the pot boiling. But he also has a tendency to over-boil the pot and take himself out of position. When he started to settle down, he was in much better spots, and he helped us start our offense.”
And that was all the Nittany Lions needed. Their strategy was this: Keep alive plays and set high.
“Even times when we did break it down and get them out of system, they jacked it out to the pins, and those guys blasted them out,” Wade said. “My hat’s off to them. They played really well.”