A Pepperdine attack sailed out of bounds, and Penn State hands flew into the air as the Nittany Lions men’s volleyball team celebrated its history-making NCAA championship, its first national title in 14 years.
In the opening game, it looked like Pepperdine was well in control, but the Lions rallied to win the next three straight, taking home the program’s second national crown.
Junior Matt Anderson was named the NCAA’s most outstanding player.
“I’m kind of awe-struck right now with what happened,’’ he said. “Coming back — it’s pretty cool to see. One of the things I’m proud of is our never-say-die attitude.’’
But even more impressive than the come-from-behind win is the significance of the national championship for Penn State athletics and east coast volleyball. This is just the second time in the history of the sport that one school has swept both the men’s and women’s Division I titles in the same academic year. The PSU women defeated Stanford in a five-game final this fall.
It’s hard to imagine that a land-locked land grant university could become a national power in college volleyball. The vast majority of NCAA titles have gone to California universities, where kids grow up playing volleyball on beaches and in palm tree-laden backyards year-round.
In fact, the Penn State men were the first D-I volleyball team east of the Mississippi River to bring home an NCAA trophy from the west coast. No other eastern school has won men’s and women’s titles in any combination of years.
“The grassroots at the scholastic and club level, the players are in it for the right reasons,’’ PSU coach Mark Pavlik said. “You don’t have to have a tan in February to be a good volleyball player. These guys played their butts off, and hopefully there’s some 12-year-old in Iowa that decides if they work hard, they can be like Matty [Anderson].’’
So what makes the Nittany Lions so good? It all comes down to coaching and commitment.
PSU women’s coach Russ Rose is a living legend in the volleyball ranks and was inducted into the national hall of fame the same weekend his squad won its NCAA title.
On the men’s side, Pavlik has been the guiding force of the Nittany Lions since 1997 and was an assistant coach when Penn State won its first national title. The roster Pavlik has tirelessly assembled reads like an international smorgasbord, with players from as close to home as State College, to as far away as Brazil.
Both coaches are supremely committed to promoting volleyball. Both have created world-class programs in Happy Valley while also working with U.S. national teams to compete worldwide.
That hard work has paid off with unprecedented success for the Penn State programs that are now a bona fide volleyball dynasty — not just on the east coast, but from sea to shining sea.
Kellie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears Tuesdays.