The men’s volleyball team concluded its season on a strong note, but fell just shy of a bid for the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers (16-10 overall, 10-4 Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association) traveled to State College, Pa. over the weekend to try and win the EIVA playoffs in a four-team tournament that included Penn State, Harvard and George Mason.
With the third seed in the tournament, Princeton first faced No. 2-seeded Harvard (15-8, 11-3) on Thursday evening in Rec Hall. Tired of the Crimson’s streak of five-set victories over them, the Tigers sent the boys from Cambridge packing with a decisive 3-1 win in the first semifinal match. The first two sets saw the Tigers at their finest, as they recorded a .483 hitting performance in the second frame and took it by a score of 25-15. While Harvard won the third set by a tight score of 25-22, Princeton came right back out in the fourth and closed them down to secure a place in the EIVA finals.
Noteworthy performances came from sophomore outside hitter Devin Stearns and senior outside hitter Pat Schwagler, who both hit for high percentages and combined for 36 kills. Junior libero Tony Ensbury was a crucial difference maker early on for the Tigers, as the 2014 First-Team All-EIVA honoree had a career-high 18 digs and flashed energy that fired up the rest of the lineup from start to finish.
Saturday night saw further brilliant play from Princeton’s lineup, but it was not enough to prevent top-seeded Penn State from capturing its 16th consecutive EIVA crown. The first set saw the Tigers trying to keep pace with the Nittany Lions (24-6, 13-1 EIVA), whose only regular season conference loss came against the Tigers on Feb. 28. Down 20-16, Schwagler served the Tigers ahead on the wings of a 5-0 run. After exchanging further blows, a Penn State block and a Princeton hitting error enabled Penn State to eek out the first set win.
Strong blocking by Penn State, combined with serving from the EIVA Player of the Year Aaron Russell, helped the Nittany Lions ward off the Tigers by larger margins of 25-19 and 25-18 in the second and third sets, respectively. But the Tigers did not lack strong performances: In his final collegiate match, Schwagler recorded 12 kills, five digs and only one error, while junior outside hitter Cody Kessell had 12 kills, six digs and two blocks. Freshman setter Chris Kennedy put up 29 assists and three digs in his first finals appearance, and Stearns recorded seven kills, five digs and three blocks. Ensbury followed up his strong semifinal performance with a team-high seven digs.
Princeton concluded its season with 16 wins, tying for the second-most in program history since the team earned varsity status in 1997. This year marks the fourth time the Tigers have made the EIVA final and is just the second Princeton lineup to defeat Penn State during the varsity-status era.