UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Top-seeded No. 7 Penn State men's volleyball (20-9) swept past third-seeded George Mason (15-13) in three sets (25-16, 25-17, 25-17) to capture its 27th overall and 17th consecutive EIVA Championship title Friday evening at Rec Hall. The Nittany Lion victory officially punches Penn State's ticket to NCAA post season play as the conference's automatic qualifier.
Penn State earned the No. 5 seed for the NCAA Championships and will face No. 4 Hawaii (25-6, 18-4 MPSF) in the opening round on Tuesday, May 5 at 11 p.m. ET in Stanford, Calif. at Maples Pavilion. The winner of the will advance to the NCAA national semifinals Thursday, May 7, meeting top-ranked Lewis.
A trio of three Nittany Lions led the offense with double figure kills. Senior EIVA Player of the Year Aaron Russell led the group with 15 kills on .619 hitting, adding six digs and two aces to earn EIVA Championship Most Outstanding Player honors.
Sophomore Chris Nugent finished second on the team with 14 kills on .632 hitting, adding two digs and two blocks. He also earned a spot on the EIVA All-Tournament team. Redshirt senior Nick Goodell rounded out the group with 11 kills, eight digs and two aces.
Redshirt senior Connor Curry logged five digs in a standout defensive performance. He earned the team's third EIVA Championship All-Tournament team selection. Redshirt junior Matt Callaway posted a team-high five blocks, while also adding four kills. Redshirt junior Taylor Hammond directed the squad to a .500 hitting clip, dishing out 41 assists to go along with six digs and two blocks.
Penn State jumped out to a 6-2 lead for an early advantage in the opening set. The Patriots cut off the run with a 3-2 stretch, narrowing the lead to three, 8-5. The Nittany Lions answered back with a 7-4 run capped off by two consecutive PSU blocks to make it 15-9. George Mason looked to get back on track with a 2-1 burst, 16-11, but a 4-2 Penn State run brought the Nittany Lions ahead by as many as seven, 20-13.
The Patriots made one final attempt to spark some momentum with a kill, 20-14, but Penn State followed with a 5-2 streak capped off by a pair of kills from Nugent to secure a 25-16 win in the first set.
The Nittany Lions shot out to 4-0 lead in the second set, helped out by kills from Russell, Nugent and redshirt junior Matt Seifert. The two teams briefly traded points, but Penn State remained on top by at least three points, 7-4. Russell and Goodell put down two consecutive kills to give the Nittany Lions a five-point cushion, 9-4.
George Mason looked to cut off the run with a kill, 9-5, but PSU answered back with a 5-2 stretch to double the advantage, 14-7, causing the Patriots to call a timeout. The Patriots came storming back with a 6-2 streak to trim the gap to four, 17-13. Callaway and Russell followed with a block to open up a 6-3 streak to bolster the lead to as many as seven, 23-16.
The Patriots made one final attempt to regroup with a kill, 23-17, but a GMU service error and a kill from Russell wrapped up a 25-17 win in the second set. Penn State got out to another hot start in the third set, surging out to a 7-1 lead. A PSU service error interrupted the momentum, but Penn State regrouped with a 5-2 stretch to remain on top by as many as eight, 12-4. GMU battled back with a 3-2 strike, 14-7, but PSU followed with a 4-2 stretch to make it 18-9, prompting the Patriots to call a timeout.
Rallying, George Mason put together a 6-3 run to shave the Penn State advantage down to five, 21-16. A kill from Goodell and an ace from redshirt freshman Jalen Penrose quickly sparked a 4-1 streak that lifted the Nittany Lions to a 25-17 victory in the third set to complete the sweep.