May 3, 2011

Penn State Men's Volleyball in NCAA Final Four, Starting Thursday

The 2008 championship team. Can the 2011 team recreate the magic?
For the 12th time in a row, the Penn State men's volleyball team took home the EIVA conference crown and earned an automatic berth in the 2011 NCAA tournament. It's safe to say that eastern volleyball belongs to Penn State, regardless of gender. Now the men will go for their third national championship, and with home court advantage throughout the postseason, expectations are high.

For those unfamiliar with the sport or how it's set up in terms of the postseason, here is a quick recap: In men's volleyball, there are three conferences (EIVA, MIVA, and MPSF) covering the eastern, midwestern, and mountain/pacific regions of the country. The conference winners, as determined by conference tournaments similar to men's basketball, earn an automatic bid to the tournament. The tournament only has four teams, so the final spot is filled by the highest ranked at-large team. As of 2011, a mere 29 teams made up these three conferences.

As expected, Penn State captured the EIVA title and Ohio State took home the MIVA title. A minor upset, though, occurred in the MPSF, where UC-Santa Barbara took the conference title, causing a ripple effect that likely knocked a Top 3 ranked team out of the tournament. Entering conference play, Penn State was ranked No. 10, Ohio State No. 9, UCSB No. 5, and USC No. 1.

USC earned the at-large bid and the number 1 seed overall. They will face UCSB at 7p on Thursday, May 5. Following that match, Penn State and Ohio State will square off to see who will likely face USC for the 2011 National Title. The championship will be played on Saturday, May 7, at 7p. All of the matches will air live on ESPN2.

The entire tournament will be played at Rec Hall in University Park. Penn State has hosted the tournament four times since the beginning of the tournament in 1970. Twice, the Nittany Lions have finished runners-up on their home court, but they have never taken home the crown. Overall, the Nittany Lions have two national titles, in 1994 and 2008. Comparatively, USC has four titles, while neither Ohio State nor UCSB have ever won a men's volleyball title.

PSU and OSU split the season series, with Ohio State taking a 3-0 match on February 9 and PSU returning the favor 3-1 on April 10. On March 11, PSU beat UCSB 3-1, so if they happen to knock off USC and PSU takes care of OSU, Penn State should have the advantage in the finals.

Long time head coach Mark Pavlik and his merry band of all-stars will be tough to beat, but nothing will be easy with the other three teams in the tournament.

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