Luke Braswell had his patience tested the last two years.
Until the men’s volleyball season opened in January, Braswell had not played a meaningful match since June of 2014, when he helped Northeastern to a PIAA Class 2-A title at Rec Hall.
Having to watch from the Penn State sidelines, even if he wasn’t injured, was less than enjoyable.
“That was tough,” said Braswell, who was recently named to the Off the Block/Springbak Freshman All-American Team. “I tried to play a lot during that first gap year, and then last year I was playing all the time. But it drove me nuts sometimes. It was two long years of not actually getting collegiate playing time that I wanted.”
Following his graduation from Northeastern, Braswell took classes part-time for a year at Harrisburg Area Community College, then had a redshirt season at Penn State. He got in lots of practice time, but could never step onto the Rec Hall floor for a match.
The reason for the delay was the Nittany Lions already had setters on the roster the last two seasons in Taylor Hammond and Zack Parik. Last season, he at least got to apprentice with the duo.
“He understands some things better than your average freshman setter,” coach Mark Pavlik said. “With him, as with most young guys, strength and conditioning is a huge, huge factor. If he can get quicker, if he can gain some movement skills, it’s going to make his setting even better. From the neck up, he understands the game.”
This past week — in preparation for the Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association championships — he was working on the visualization and muscle memory necessary for effective back sets.
That preparation apparently worked. PSU beat Princeton on Thursday in the EIVA semifinals, 25-23, 25-19, 25-23, with Braswell collecting 36 assists and six digs. His six digs were second on the team to Central York grad Royce Clemens, who had seven.
Then on Saturday night in front of more than 1,300 fans in Rec Hall, Braswell, Clemens and the Lions took the league title with a 25-19, 25-14, 25-20 victory over St. Francis. Braswell finished with 33 assists in the match, while the team made just eight hitting errors. It was the Lions' 30th EIVA Tournament crown and Braswell was named to the all-tournament team. Clemens had 10 digs Saturday.
"It's just awesome that the pass is there and I can set four guys at a time," Braswell said after Saturday's triumph. "I know the ball's getting put away. It we can do that, blockers can't key on one guy."
In the second game vs. St. Francis, PSU sided out at an extremely efficient rate of 92 percent (13 of 14).
"I saw the number sitting here and I was like 'wow, that's crazy," Braswell said. "Our passers pass very well and it makes my job really easy ... 92 percent was great for us, that's a great number."
Stephen Braswell, Luke's brother, plays for St. Francis. He had two kills and three digs for the Red Flash.
Saturday's victory earned PSU (21-10) an NCAA Division I tournament berth, earning the No. 5 seed. The Lions will face fourth-seeded Hawaii (26-5) in the second of the two play-in matches on Tuesday, May 2, at 8 p.m. at St. John Arena in Columbus, Ohio. The winner of that match-up will move on to meet top-ranked, tournament host Ohio State (30-2) in the national semifinals at 8 p.m. Thursday, May 4. Northeastern grad Reese Devilbiss is a freshman for the Buckeyes.
This week’s matches featured a little more intrigue than Penn State’s typical foray into the EIVA tournament over most of the last two decades. Until last season, the Nittany Lions had won every tournament title since 1998. An upset at the hands of St. Francis in the semifinals last season ended the run.