After falling to George Mason (14-13 overall, 8-6 EIVA) on the road the previous week, the men’s volleyball team (15-9, 10-4) avenged its loss to the Patriots with a home win on Friday night in front of a packed Dillon Gymnasium. Not only did the win end the Tigers’ regular season on a high note, but it also gave them the third seed for the EIVA playoffs. Gaining the third seed is crucial because it puts Princeton on the opposite side of the EIVA bracket from 15-time reigning champion Penn State, which sits atop the conference rankings.
In front of nearly 900 fans in Dillon, the Tigers got out to a slow start on Friday night, and were quickly forced to play catch-up during the first set. After trailing 6-5 early in the first frame, the Patriots scored four consecutive points to go up 9-6, and would not relinquish the lead for the remainder of the set. Tiger points were sparse in between bursts of scoring for George Mason. Down 15-23, the Tigers had their longest streak of the first set with three consecutive points, but could not complete the comeback and fell 18-25 in the first set.
The second set started out similarly to the first, as both sides traded points early on. But team-wide contributions shot Princeton ahead in scoring, and the tables seemed to have turned as the Tigers held a 21-15 lead late in the set. But six consecutive George Mason points put the Patriots right back in the set, and Princeton took a timeout to collect with the score even at 21 apiece. The Tigers would grind out the last several points and take the set to even it at one set apiece.
Consecutive bursts of scoring were hard to come by for both sides for the next two sets, as Princeton and George Mason exchanged blows in what had quickly escalated into a war for postseason aspirations. But the Tigers were able to limit their errors better than the Patriots, and were able to take the third set 25-20 and the fourth set 25-22 to secure a crucial victory on Senior Night.
Junior outside hitter Cody Kessel led the Tigers with 15 kills, which included the match winner, and added eight digs and three blocks. Sophomore outside hitter Devin Stearns and senior outside hitter Pat Schwagler combined for 25 kills and 13 digs. Freshman setter Chris Kennedy added 50 assists, while junior libero Tony Ensbury had 14 digs.
The Tigers will take on second-seeded Harvard on Thursday night in the semifinal match of the four-team EIVA Tournament.