With a striking 8-1 March record heading into this past weekend, the men’s volleyball team suffered its second loss since February 21st and picked up its ninth win to close out the month. The Tigers (13-8 overall, 8-3 EIVA) fell on the road Friday evening to 15-time defending EIVA champion Penn State, but bounced back with a win on Saturday in a heated battle against St. Francis.
After taking down Penn State (17-6, 8-1) in February in a five-set war on the floor of Dillon Gymnasium, Princeton could not stave off the domineering game play that the Nittany Lions’ opponents have so often experienced this season. In a matchup where the Tigers struggled to push the pace, the Nittany Lions picked up their 11th shutout victory of the season as they took the game in straight sets 25-19, 25-13, 25-20. Friday’s showdown saw the Tigers muster just a .112 hitting percentage, in which the Tigers only garnered 20 points in their best set. Junior outside hitter Cody Kessel had a team-high eight kills, and senior outside hitter Pat Schwagler added seven. Freshman middle blocker Junior Oboh added five kills, while senior tri-captain and setter Davis Waddell had 24 assists.
With the loss, Princeton’s chances of hosting the EIVA Championships at the end of April are all but gone. Penn State and Harvard are two games better than Princeton, and the Tigers would lose a tiebreaker amongst the trio if it came to that. However, the earlier win over Penn State, in addition to two close losses to Harvard, show that the Tigers can compete with any team in the conference.
The Tigers completed their final full road weekend of league competition on a high note, however, as they knocked off St. Francis 25-20, 20-25, 25-20, 31-29 to complete a season sweep of the Red Flash (9-12, 4-5). After exchanging the first three sets, St. Francis made a strong push to force a decisive fifth set, rallying from a 24-21 deficit to force extra play. Fighting off four set balls from the Red Flash, the Tigers weathered the storm and regained the lead at 30-29. Oboh would put the final nail in the coffin, as he blocked St. Francis’ Mike Marshman for the match winner.
The team’s senior tri-captains led the team’s effort in a major way on Saturday, as Schwagler tallied 14 kills and four blocks for a team-leading 18 points. Waddell remained steady throughout the match, as the California native racked up 41 assists. Finally, outside hitter Jeff Stapleton came off the bench to add seven kills and six digs. Other noteworthy performances came from Kessell and junior libero Tony Ensbury. Kessel led the squad with 18 kills, including three straight to fight off set balls in the fourth. Ensbury led the defense with 10 digs.
The coming weeks of competition will be vital in shaping Princeton’s place in the EIVA postseason picture, as only the conference’s top four teams get to compete. The Tigers currently stand in third place, and a win over St. Francis was vital in keeping the fifth place Red Flash at bay. George Mason currently holds the same number of losses as St. Francis, but sits ahead of them with the fourth spot in the conference standings.
The Tigers will return to EIVA competition this Friday, as they travel to Newark for an evening match against NJIT. Match time is set for 7:00 p.m.