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IPFW volleyball faces familiar foe

– Arnie Ball needs no road map to find Happy Valley, which makes him a rarity where that famously inaccessible destination is concerned.

No, IPFW’s men’s volleyball coach is familiar with Penn State, just as Penn State coach Mark Pavlik is familiar with IPFW. So there’ll be no secrets when the two programs square off again at Penn State tonight.

“Penn State?” Ball said this week. “I know they’re going to be bigger than us. They’re always bigger than us.”

They’re also a team that was ranked 10th when it went down to the unranked Mastodons in Fort Wayne last season, 18-25, 25-23, 19-25, 27-25, 15-11. It was the first time IPFW had beaten Penn State since 2007, and the rematch has some cache to it as well: Both teams are ranked, IPFW at No. 14 and the Nittany Lions at No. 11.

Other than that, it’s same-old, same-old for IPFW, which will again have to avoid the usual potential trap game on its Eastern swing – after the Nittany Lions, the Mastodons play a decent Saint Francis (Pa.) team Saturday.

But first, Penn State, which presents the usual problems with a lineup that features eight players who are 6-foot-7 or taller.

“They’re difficult to play at their place, because they always serve the ball very well,” Ball says. “They’ve always been a strong serving team and a strong blocking team.

“We really can’t practice against their size, because we really don’t have anyone in our gym that’s that big. But we do have, right now, some guys who have real good serves, so we can concentrate on that. That’s the part where we’re going to spend some time this week.”

The Mastodons are 2-0 as they head East, having brushed aside Sacred Heart 25-19, 25-18, 25-20 in their home opener last week. Eddie Rivera led the way with 12 kills, but IPFW got its usual balanced attack with Bryan Saunders and Ramon Brugos checking in with nine kills apiece and Elon Fyfield adding six more.

Now it’s on to Penn State and Saint Francis for a veteran team that, like their coach, knows the way.

“Our kids having been ranked for a couple of weeks in the poll, so now they’ve got their sights set on Penn State,” Ball says. “And, of course, being Penn State, it’s easy to get motivated. As everybody knows in sports, you know it’s that next one you really have to work on getting the kids up for because it’s not quite as glamorous or it’s not quite as exciting – and Saint Francis actually has a very nice volleyball team.

“But the fact we have an experienced squad makes it easier in preparation, because they understand just a little bit what you’re trying to prepare for.”