FORT WAYNE – Arnie Ball needs no road map to find Happy Valley, which makes him a rarity where that famously inaccessible destination is concerned.
No, IPFWs mens volleyball coach is familiar with Penn State, just as Penn State coach Mark Pavlik is familiar with IPFW. So therell be no secrets when the two programs square off again at Penn State tonight.
Penn State? Ball said this week. I know theyre going to be bigger than us. Theyre always bigger than us.
Theyre 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, its 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.
Theyre difficult to play at their place, because they always serve the ball very well, Ball says. Theyve always been a strong serving team and a strong blocking team.
We really cant practice against their size, because we really dont have anyone in our gym thats that big. But we do have, right now, some guys who have real good serves, so we can concentrate on that. Thats the part where were 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 its 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 theyve got their sights set on Penn State, Ball says. And, of course, being Penn State, its easy to get motivated. As everybody knows in sports, you know its that next one you really have to work on getting the kids up for because its not quite as glamorous or its 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 youre trying to prepare for.