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Men's volleyball falls to Penn State in EIVA Tournament championship match

(Posted May 2, 2009)

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- They advanced further into the EIVA Tournament - or any conference tournament, for that matter, where an NCAA tournament automatic berth was on the line - than any Division III program had before.

Still, it was hard not to notice the look of disappointment on the faces of the Juniata College men's volleyball team, after their 3-0 loss to Penn State in Saturday's 2009 EIVA Tournament championship match at Recreation Hall. After a close 30-25 win by Penn State in the first set, the Nittany Lions began to assert their athleticism in sets two and three, winning by 30-19 and 30-21 scores.

The match brought Juniata's 20th season of varsity volleyball to a close with an 18-8 mark.

Junior outside hitter Zach Wanner (Lancaster, Pa./Hempfield) led the Eagles with 12 kills on 34 swings, but with seven errors he finished with a .147 hitting percentage. Sophomore outside Chris Vrooman (Baden, Pa./Ambridge Area) tallied eight kills, while senior middle hitter Dan Powers (Lancaster, Pa./Manheim Township) and junior middle Evan Halteman (Perkiomenville, Pa./Christopher Dock) finished with five and four kills respectively.

Senior setter Matt Werle (Meadville, Pa./Meadville) tallied 27 assists in his final collegiate outing. Junior libero Anthony Damiano (Lititz, Pa./Manheim Township) and sophomore outside Dan Follett (Cranberry Township, Pa./Seneca Valley) each had five blocks.

Juniata hit .155 as a team, compared to Penn State's .396 attack rate. The Nittany Lions also tallied eight service aces, and out-dug the Eagles, 35-23.

"We were excited to play," said Werle. "We were real prepared, and I think they were a little shocked at how well we played at the beginning of the match, because last night wasn't one of our better matches and I think they underestimated us at the beginning of the match. Once they noticed we were here to play and weren't going to roll over for them, they started kicking it into gear, I think."

Juniata had as much as a 5-1 lead in the first set, and still held a slim 6-3 lead following a Vrooman kill. However the Nittany Lions rattled off the next seven points, including a stretch of back-to-back kills by Will Price and Ryan Sweitzer, that resulted in a 10-6 Penn State lead. The Eagles pulled back to within two points, 10-8, thanks to a Halteman kill and a block by Powers and Follett. Penn State managed to keep at least two points of separation from Juniata all the way to 13-10, when kills by Powers and Wanner cut the deficit to 13-12. However a pair of Eagle errors put the Nittany Lions back in front 15-12, and a pair of side out points followed by a Vrooman attack error left Penn State with a 17-13 lead.

The Eagles would cut the Nittany Lion lead down to one point again at 22-21, following a Max Holt attack error. Penn State came back with three straight kills, and slowly pulled away from Juniata over the rest of the set. A Holt kill on set point sealed the set one win for the Nittany Lions.

"I think we had a great start to the match and had the crowd into it," said Price. "For us to trade long runs early probably really didn't reflect the start of the match like they thought it was going to be."

"It was very difficult," said Werle, when asked in the post-match press conference about keeping emotions in check after Juniata's 5-1 start. "We were pretty excited, our fans were really into it and that was huge, and kind of once they (Penn State) started taking control of the match... it was tough to get up from that high, and then very tough to get it back. Once they grabbed the momentum, we didn't really gain it back."

Another lengthy Penn State run broke open the second set, and positioned the Nittany Lions to post the win. Trailing 21-17, Juniata committed attack errors on the next three points, and a triple block by Max Lipsitz, Price and Joe Sunder followed by a Price kill vaulted the Nittany Lions into a 26-17 lead.

The run stopped with a Penn State net violation, but two more kills by Lipsitz and Sunder extended the Nittany Lion advantage to 28-18. A block by Powers and Werle gave Juniata the point at 28-19, but back-to-back kills by Holt and Sunder allowed Penn State to clinch the second set.

The third set followed the pattern of the second, with Juniata pulling to within four points of Penn State at 21-16 after a Werle solo block. The two teams traded side out points with a Lipsitz kill and a termination by Wanner, but a Wanner attack error and a Sunder kill extended the Nittany Lions' lead to 24-18. After another pair of side out points, Juniata gained two points on Penn State with a Wanner kill and an attack error by Holt. The Nittany Lions regained the serve with a kill by Holt, and rattled off the next four points to complete their championship march.

"Game three I thought we played very well for about 20 points, and then not so well for the last 10," said Price.

"I thought they won all the long points," added Price. "There were a lot of long, scramble points and guys on both teams traded some really outstanding digs, good touches, and then they (Penn State) would win the point. And that gets really old after a while. It's tough to overcome, especially when you play a team as talented as Penn State."

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