This has been a good week in the Pavlik household.

Most of you know Mark Pavlik, the Penn State men’s volleyball coach, who coached three members of the USA national team that just won the FIVB World Cup and qualified for the Olympics: Matt Anderson, Aaron Russell and Max Holt.

But a couple of days earlier, when the AVCA Division III women’s poll came out, Juniata had moved up from fourth to No. 1. Juniata’s coach is Pavlik’s wife, Heather, who admitted things are pretty good about halfway between State College, where Mark works, and Huntingdon, where Heather coaches.

“It’s about 20 minutes for me and 20 minutes for him,” she said of their home in Cornpropst Mills. “We live out in the middle of cow country.”

Her team is 12-0, 1-0 in the Landmark Conference, headed into Friday night’s match at Eastern.

Being ranked No. 1, she said, is indicative of how good Juniata could be.

“We have a long way to go,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of seniors out there. We only have one senior (opposite Kristin Collins) playing much at all. So I think we can get a lot better. We’re still a work in progress for sure. We’ve have had some good wins but I just want to focus on getting better.”

Mar-Jana Phillips, a junior from Carson, Calif., leads the Eagles in kills with 122.

The roster is about half from Pennsylvania and half “from all over the place,” Pavlik said. “It’s been that way for probably the last 10 years or so.”

Megan Moroney, a sophomore from Mentor, Ohio, has 118, Nakita Gearhart, a junior from Waynesboro, Pa., has 109 and Brittanie Tannenbaum, a junior from Highlands Ranch, Colo., 84. Setter Kelly Reynolds is a junior from Upper St. Clair, Pa., and libero Katie Byrne is a freshman from Annapolis, Md, with 194 digs.

Nakita Gearhart and Mar-Jana Phillips on the block for Juniata

“Our two middles (Gearhart and Maroney) are special. Nakita is just an ultimate competitor. She’s just fierce. She’s not big, she’s maybe 5-11, but she plays much bigger. She’s kind of the motor for our team. She gets things rolling. And Megan is just dynamic. Really gets up in the air and is very strong, very physical and she’s gotten a lot better since last year. She’s playing at a very high level right now.”

The former Heather Blough was a three-time AVCA All-American at Juniata (1992-94) and it’s the only place she’s ever coached. She graduated in 1995, took a year off, and then came back. She was a long-time assistant and this is her fifth as the head coach, boasting a record of 123-33. What’s more, the Eagles are riding a 65-0 Landmark Conference winning streak. Last year, Juniata lost in five to eventual-champion Hope College in the DIII NCAA Tournament regional semifinals.

There are no athletic scholarships in Division III, which represents all sorts of recruiting challenges.

“The first thing is you have to find the right kind of players. You have to find the right kind of people who want a small, private institution that has great academics, but who also want to play really good volleyball and do it on a national level.”

National level indeed. Juniata won the national DIII championship in 2004 and 2006 and certainly has to be considered among the favorites this year. It’s worth noting that the Penn State men won in 2008, so they had this every-two-years-thing going on for a while.

“It was a pretty good run,” Heather understated. “And the year in between, ’05, we were in the finals. It was pretty good.”

It’s inevitable that they do, but the Pavliks try not to talk volleyball at home. The good news is they coach in opposite seasons, since the NCAA men play in the spring. Of course, they spend plenty of time with their 14-year-old son, Jackson.

Team Pavlik

“I’d be crazy, especially living with Mark, not to bounce some things off him once in a while,” Heather said with a laugh, “but we really do try to keep our personal life separate from volleyball.”

Sun Devils hold off Arizona

There were a couple of big matches Thursday night in NCAA women’s volleyball with a full slate tonight. The big one was No. 7 Arizona State holding off Arizona, ranked 14th and of course the fiercest of rivals. ASU stayed unbeaten with the four-set victory, despite a sick coach and a hurt setter. Here’s the story from the Arizona Republic.

And here’s the story from The State Press.

The Pac-12 starts the league season with rivalry matches. Here’s where to get all the Pac-12 scoop, including victories Thursday for Oregon and Washington.

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