ALTOONA, Pa. – After a shaky start to Tuesday evening's North Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament first round match, the Penn State Altoona men's volleyball team grabbed a 3-1 victory over Medaille College in the Adler Arena.
With the win, the fourth-seeded Lions (16-12, 5-3 NEAC) will advance to the NEAC Tournament semifinal round this Saturday, April 14 to play top seed Lancaster Bible College at 12:00 p.m. The winner of that match moves on to play in the NEAC championship on Sunday at 1:00 p.m. Both semifinal matches and the championship match will be hosted at Lancaster Bible.
Penn State Altoona lost the opening set of Tuesday's match 25-22 to number five seed Medaille (7-22, 3-5 NEAC), but the Lions regrouped to win the next three by scores of 25-23, 25-22, and 25-16.
Tommy Kisick (Latrobe, PA/Greater Latrobe) tied for the match-high in assists with 42. With those 42 assists, he surpassed the 1,500-assist mark for his career, becoming the first Penn State Altoona men's volleyball player in program history to do so. He is the Lions' all-time assists leader with 1,516 assists during his two-year collegiate career.
Dan Downs (Reading, PA/Daniel Boone) tied for the team-high in kills with 11, and he also contributed three solo blocks, one block assist, and four digs. Ian Rathgeb (Douglassville, PA/Daniel Boone) also totaled 11 kills while adding two block assists.
Justin Bannister (Willow Hill, PA/Fannett-Metal) recorded a match-high six total blocks, finishing with four solo blocks and two block assists, and he also posted 10 kills and 11 digs. Brian Sheddy (Shrewsbury, PA/Susquehannock) had nine kills and 10 digs, and Ryan Dry (Douglassville, PA/Daniel Boone) finished with six kills and a solo block.
Penn State Altoona held a 20-19 lead in the first set, but Medaille ended it on a 5-2 run to take the early lead in the match. Matt Dempsey's kill and Brazil Thompson's block gave the Mavericks a 21-20 lead. A Penn State Altoona attack error accounted for the winning point in the set for Medaille.
The Lions were able to grind out a win in the second set to even the match score 1-1. Tied 10-10, Penn State Altoona used a 4-0 run to create some space on the scoreboard. In that span, the Lions got two kills from Rathgeb and back-to-back solo blocks by Bannister. Later, after Matt Dickerson's kill helped Medaille creep to within 21-20, another Bannister solo block put Penn State Altoona back up by two, 22-20. The Mavericks again made it a one-point set after Sam Bloomberg's kill that cut the Lions' lead to 24-23. But after a timeout, a service error gave Penn State Altoona the winning point in the set.
Medaille continued to keep things close in the third set, and the Mavericks worked their way into a 20-19 lead. But kills from Bannister and Sheddy put Penn State Altoona ahead, and the Lions closed out the set with a kill from Downs and a Medaille attack error.
Penn State Altoona took care of business in the fourth set. After Steven Ebert's kill for Medaille narrowed the Lions' lead to 11-10, Penn State Altoona proceeded to outscore the Mavericks 14-6 the rest of the way to win by a comfortable margin. A solo block from Downs gave the Lions a 17-11 lead, and a kill from Rathgeb helped to extend it to 20-13. Bannister and Rathgeb later combined for a block to make it 23-18, and the Lions scored the final two points in the set on a kill from Dry and a Medaille attack error.
Now, Penn State Altoona will make its third consecutive appearance in the NEAC semifinals on Saturday. This time, the Lions will look to defend their 2017 conference title by facing the 2018 tournament top seed, Lancaster Bible. In the regular season, Lancaster Bible defeated Penn State Altoona 3-0 (25-20, 25-21, 25-19) on Sunday, February 18 in Altoona.