West Xtra: Ambridge grad boosts Penn State volleyball team

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Nick Goodell will have a player from his high school joining him next season at Penn State University, but this redshirt junior from Ambridge has more important things to be concerned with right now.

Goodell, a 6-foot-4 opposite, is in his third year of starting for the Nittany Lions, who are perennial contenders for an NCAA Division I title.

"Our goal every year is to win an NCAA title," Goodell said. "This year is no different."

Penn State entered the week tied for No. 12 in the national rankings with a 19-6 record. The Nittany Lions have advanced to the NCAA Final Four in 18 of Mark Pavlik's 20 seasons as head coach.

"Our magic number for winning the [Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association] regular-season title is one," Pavlik said. "We need one win in our final three matches to finish first and host the EIVA tournament."

Winning an EIVA title translated into an automatic berth in the NCAA Final Four in past years. That has changed this season, as the NCAA has expanded to allow six teams in the tournament.

"The champion of all four conferences gets an automatic berth into the tournament, along with two wildcards," Pavlik said. "The top two seeds earn an automatic berth to the Final Four. The other four teams face off to determine the other two semifinal berths."

It's safe to say Penn State will not be one of the top two seeds. Loyola of Chicago is No. 1, while Pepperdine is No. 2.

"I had no say in determing the new format," Goodell said. "We just have to take each match one at a time and not worry about the future."

Goodell does like the home-court advantage Penn State can earn by winning the EIVA regular-season title.

"It's nice to be playing in front of a home crowd that will obviously be cheering for us," Goodell said. "And it's great that we don't have to travel."

Despite being No. 12 in the rankings, Goodell still feels the Nittany Lions can win it all.

"Everybody is beating each other up," Goodell said. "There's no clear-cut favorite, so we've got as good a chance as anybody. We just have to play like we know how to play."

Goodell started 19 matches as a redshirt freshman and ranked second on the team with 237 kills and a .331 hitting percentage. He also ranked third on the team with 25 serving aces.

Last year, Goodell started only 12 matches, but still ranked third on the team with 196 kills. His hitting percentage dropped to .235. He also ranked third on the team with 20 serving aces.

"Nick has made big strides since last season," Pavlik said. "Especially in the past month. He has become more aggressive at the net, both hitting and blocking, and it shows."

Goodell ranks second on the team with 308 kills and has improved his hitting percentage to .265. He also ranks second on the team with 30 serving aces.

"Nick's responsibilities as an opposite are to block, serve, and hit," Pavlik said. "He's done a great job in all three phases this year, especially in the past month."

Goodell will be joined next year by Ambridge senior Lee Smith, who is considered one of the top players in the state.

"I can't wait for Lee to join the team," Goodell said. "It will be great to have somebody from my alma mater joining me at Penn State. I've followed his career since he was in eighth grade, but we never got to play together since we were four years apart. My redshirt year gives us a chance to play together."

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