Posts tagged ‘Mark Pavlik’

From the Magazine: Aaron Russell


The men’s volleyball team’s season ended last Thursday with a five-set loss to top-seeded (and eventual champ) Loyola Chicago in the national semifinals. It was the 16th straight Final Four trip for the Nittany Lions, who fell two wins short of the program’s third NCAA championship. For junior outside hitter Aaron Russell, it marked the end of one of the finest individual seasons in Penn State history.

Russell is the featured athlete in our May/June issue, which most Alumni Association members should have received in the past few days. We chose Russell because, even before he earned first-team All-America honors this spring, it was clear he was the guy who made the Nittany Lions go. He was named EIVA Player of the Year as a sophomore (an honor he repeated this season), thanks to team highs of 366 kills and 40 service aces. As a junior this spring, he eclipsed both of those totals, leading the Lions with 421 kills and 69 aces.

Having arrived on campus as a middle blocker—at 6-foot-9, that seems at a glance his most logical position—Russell succeeded not in spite of the switch to outside hitter, but largely because of it. Longtime Penn State coach Mark Pavlik deserves some credit for that. “I was a middle blocker ever since I started playing, but Pav told me that even when he recruited me, he saw me as an outside hitter because of my athletic ability and how I can move,” Russell says. “Switching to another position, I kind of had to learn the game all over again. It kept it interesting for me, kind of helped me from getting burned out.”

Burn out might’ve been a real issue for a kid who’s been playing virtually his whole life. Volleyball very much runs in the Russell family genes: Aaron’s father, Stewart Russell ’86, played for the Lions, and Aaron’s brother Peter, a 6-foot-5 senior outside hitter, just wrapped up his Penn State career. Stew got both boys playing the sport at an early age, and once Peter signed with the Lions out of high school, it figured Aaron would follow suit. But after growing up in Maryland and always following the family path, Aaron thought hard about trying something new. “I kind of wanted to do my own thing,” he says. He boiled his college choices down to Penn State and UC-Irvine, another national power, but an official visit to Happy Valley sealed the decision: “I loved it here.”

He’ll be back for one final season next year, without his brother but with international experience (he played with the U.S. junior national team in Turkey last summer) and the lessons learned by almost reaching his ultimate goal this spring. The 2015 national championship will be played at Stanford, meaning the guy who almost played his college ball in California will get one last chance to show those guys on the West Coast what they’re missing.

Ryan Jones, senior editor

May 5, 2014 at 4:13 pm Leave a comment

So Long to My Favorite Chess Teacher

I’m writing this en route to Williamsport for the first stop on the second leg of the Penn State Coaches Caravan, with field hockey coach Char Morett ’79 and men’s volleyball coach Mark Pavlik joining Bill O’Brien on the bus. I’ll have more from the Caravan—on our blog, and on my Twitter feed—over the next couple of days.

Being on the first leg of the Caravan last week, I was mostly out of the loop for graduation weekend, and I’m already missing the energy that a town full of students brings. Like many of us in the Alumni Association, I’m lucky to occasionally get to know some current undergrads: interns, student leaders, Lion Ambassadors for whom the Hintz Family Alumni Center is a second home. Over the past year, my family and I have added “chess teacher” to that list.

James Bischoff ’13 graduated last week, and my 8-year-old son is still getting over it. James is outgoing president of the Penn State Chess Club, one of a handful of students who restarted the dormant club a few years ago. My son had developed an interest in the game playing with his grandfather, and since my wife and I aren’t players, we thought we’d try to get him lessons. Last fall, I emailed the chess club asking if anyone there gave lessons to kids; James replied, and nearly every Friday afternoon during the ’12-13 school year, he and my son sat at our kitchen table for an hour or more, working out the basics of the game.

I can’t say enough about this guy. James was a finance major, and I know he’ll do well in his chosen field, but I think he’d make a terrific teacher as well. He’s personable and patient, and he kept my son motivated with rewards for figuring out strategic puzzles, letting him “win” their matches just often enough, and rewarding him every couple of months with a new comic book. After their last session, James gave my son a trophy engraved with his name and the title “Chess Master;” my son gave him a copy of The Hobbit, which I trust he’ll read this summer…

We also started Spanish lessons this spring, and I’m excited that Suzy Peevey, our patient and trilingual tutor, will be back for her senior year next fall. It’s been a pleasure getting to know these impressive, conscientious Penn State students. I only wish we could keep them around for a few more years.

Ryan Jones, senior editor

May 7, 2013 at 10:09 am 1 comment

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