UCLA sweeps Penn State to capture NCAA volleyball title

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Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press
UCLA's Nick Scheftic, right, goes up to block a shot from Penn State's Nate Meerstein last night. Meerstein, an Upper St. Clair graduate High School, was named to the all-tournament team.
Click photo for larger image.

UNIVERSITY PARK -- It was supposed to be a fairy-tale ending for the Penn State University men's volleyball team, but UCLA didn't follow the script.

A sellout crowd of 5,453 packed Rec Hall with hopes of seeing the Nittany Lions win their second NCAA Division I title and first since 1994. Instead, UCLA continued its domination of collegiate volleyball by capturing its 19th title with a three-game sweep.

"I'd like to congratulate the Bruins," Penn State coach Mark Pavlik said. "The year they had was one of the very best in NCAA tournament history. To go from ninth in the conference to national champions says a lot about the character and grit of their team."

The victory marked the end of an amazing run in which UCLA (26-12) won its final 14 matches, including a record four victories in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament after being seeded seventh.

"I'm very proud of these kids," said UCLA coach Al Scates, who has led the Bruins to 25 championship appearances and an NCAA record 19 titles in 44 years. "This is perhaps the most satisfying tournament we've ever had. We had a 5-9 record in the conference at one point, but the team never doubted that we would win the title."

It was the fourth time Penn State and UCLA have met in the title match, and the Bruins have won three times. The other two came in 1982 and 1995. Penn State's only title came in 1994 with a 3-2 come-from-behind win against the Bruins.

"I watched the 2002 championships from the stands [as a redshirt]," said Nate Meerstein, a 6-foot-9 senior middle hitter who graduated from Upper St. Clair High School, referring to the last time Penn State hosted the NCAA championships. "It was so much more enjoyable to be on the court this time, but I wish the results would have been different."

Meerstein was named to the all-tournament team after recording 21 kills and 16 blocks in Penn State's two matches.

"I am so proud of my five seniors," said Pavlik, failing to hold back the tears. "I have a 4-year-old and I hope he grows up to be like these five student-athletes. I wish they had another year of eligibility."

Meerstein was joined by fellow seniors Kevin Wentzel, a 6-4 outside hitter; Matt Proper, a 6-7 opposite; Dan O'Dell, a 6-7 setter; and Andrew Price, a 6-5 outside hitter.

"I'm really proud of what we accomplished over the last five years," said Wentzel, a graduate of Mt. Lebanon High School. "The fans were just unbelievable. I wish we could have won the title for them."

Wentzel had only five kills after recording 12 in the Nittany Lions exciting, 3-2, semifinal victory against UC Irvine.

"We played toe-to-toe with them most of the match," Pavlik said. "We just had some lapses when we gave up too many easy points. And UCLA did a great job of blocking."

Led by Damien Scott and Steve Klosterman, UCLA opened the match with a 30-27 victory. Scott, a 6-5 senior outside hitter who was voted to the all-tournament team, recorded six kills on six attempts. Klosterman, a 6-7 junior opposite who was the tournament MVP, had four kills.

Penn State had only 13 kills and a .187 hitting percentage. Matt Proper, a 6-7 senior opposite who was named to the all-tournament team, kept the Nittany Lions in the match with six kills.

Meerstein came to life in game two as Penn State jumped out to a 16-8 advantage. Meerstein recorded three kills and one serving ace in the quick state, but UCLA fought back to record a 30-27 victory.

"We can always turn it on when it matters," said Klosterman, who scored on six of eight kill attempts in the second game and finished the match with 14 kills. "And we enjoy playing in front of a hostile crowd. With many of our kills and blocks, it took the crowd out of the match.

UCLA capped the victory with another 30-27 win. Klosterman had four kills, and teammate Nick Scheftic, a 6-11 senior middle hitter, had five.

The all-tournament team consisted of Klosterman, Scott, and Tony Ker from UCLA; Meerstein, O'Dell, and Proper, from Penn State; and Jayson Jablonsky from UC Irvine.

Penn State finished the season with a 21-9 record.


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