The last time men’s volleyball faced off against George Mason, the team took two of the first three sets from the EIVA regular season champions before ultimately losing in five. This weekend, Princeton will have a chance to avenge the loss, with even higher stakes, as it prepares to play George Mason once again in the EIVA semifinals.
The semifinal will take place on Thursday night with a game at George Mason between the fourth-seeded Tigers and the No. 1 Patriots. With a win, Princeton will advance to the conference tournament finals on Saturday against the winner of the other semifinal match, No. 2 Harvard against No. 1 Penn State.
Earning a playoff spot represents a remarkable achievement for a team that began the season 1–11 overall and 0–4 in conference play, with three of those losses coming in straight sets. After that point, the team went 7–3 in conference play to finish the year. It clinched the No. 4 seed in the conference and the corresponding playoff berth with a 3–0 sweep of fellow EIVA semifinalist Penn State last weekend before falling to St. Francis in the final game of the regular season, bringing its overall conference record to 7–7.
“Confidence begets confidence,” said head coach Sam Shweisky. “We had this losing streak and we couldn’t get out of our own way. Then, all of a sudden, we started winning and developed some confidence.”
Shweisky credited the leadership of the seniors and the developing team-first mentality for the turnaround.
“The guys really focused on supporting each other and trying to make the guy next to him better,” he said.
If they wish to pull a series of upsets and win the conference tournament, however, the team will need to take its play to yet another level. Princeton went 0–4 combined in its two games against No. 1 George Mason and No. 2 Harvard. Though Princeton has proven it can compete with George Mason, the Patriots lost just one regular season game in EIVA play, finishing 13–1. The Patriots had three players named to the All-EIVA Second Team and another three named to the First Team, including star opposite hitter Hayden Wagner, who was dominant the last time George Mason and Princeton played.
“They’re very balanced,” said Shweisky of the Patriots. “They don’t have any glaring weak spots, and they compete really hard.”
To pull off the upset, the team will need a stellar performance from its own star player, sophomore opposite hitter George Huhmann. Huhmann, who was also named to the All-EIVA first team, led the EIVA in the regular season in kills per set, with 3.6, and points per set, with 4.5. He posted 17 kills in Princeton’s last matchup against George Mason.
“He’s going to be the best player on the court on Thursday,” said Shweisky. “When you have the best player on the court, you always have a chance to win the match.”
Thursday’s semifinal match will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday. In its most important game of the season, Princeton will need to play its best.