Men’s volleyball makes program history after defeating Saint Francis and Penn State| Apr 15, 2019
Friday, April 12 was a historic night for Princeton’s men’s volleyball team (15—12, 13—1 EIVA). The Tigers beat Saint Francis (15—13, 9—5 EIVA) 3—1 (25—19, 25—16, 20—25, 25—23), a victory that propelled the Tigers to an outright conference title and home court advantage for the EIVA playoffs for the first time in program history. The Tigers also faced Penn State (14—14, 10—4) on Saturday and defeated them 3—0 (25—19, 25—16, 25—20).
Saint Francis entered Dillon Gymnasium on Friday evening with the only league win over the Tigers, a fact that motivated Princeton to try their hardest. The match started powerfully, as the Tigers took the first two sets.
The Tigers were hitting with a .360 percentage in the first set, compared to the .129 of the Big Red Flash, with a total of 11 kills and only 2 errors to give them the win. The second set brought an even higher percentage of .562 with an even wider gap between them at Saint Francis, which was only at .167.
Princeton couldn’t rally together the win in the third set, with only 9 kills compared to the Big Red Flash’s 17 in the set. Saint Francis ended the third set with a .433 hitting percentage and only 4 errors, their lowest number of errors for all four sets. Despite this loss, the Tigers came back in the fourth with high momentum and the home court advantage on their mind.
Saint Francis was powerful in the fourth, taking the lead until the Tigers came back to tie it 23—23. Freshman Brady Wedbush had a solo middle block, which gave Princeton the match ball. Wedbush and sophomore Joe Kelly were powerful at the net with the block that not only won them the game, but also made program history.
“In those final few points I think everyone was pretty locked in and focused on the moment. It’s important to avoid thinking about the future and what might happen because that’s when you lose focus and make mistakes,” Kelly said. “Over the last couple of weeks, our team has been spending some time before [and] after practices and lifts working on meditation and mindfulness. I think it’s really made a difference in our play, especially in these high stress moments with the game on the line.”
Overall, the Tigers were powerful offensively and defensively. Junior George Huhmann had 16 kills and 6 blocks during the match while juniors Parker Dixon and Greg Luck contributed 15 kills and 7 blocks combined. Senior Kendall Ratter had 8 kills and 5 blocks to add to the stats. Both Dixon and senior Corry Short had 7 digs, adding to the 27 total team digs. Kelly guided the team offensively with a total of 33 assists, ranking at No. 2 in the EIVA standings for assists per set.
“There was a lot of talk about what we could do this weekend and what it meant for the program as a whole. But once it came down to game time, we were able to forget about what could happen and just focus on the opponent and task at hand,” Kelly explained.
On Saturday, the Tigers prepared for one of their biggest games of the season, as well as senior night for seniors Billy Andrew, Matthew Nicholas, Kendall Ratter, and Corry Short. The Tigers carried .500 average hitting percentage through their 3 matches against Penn State, who finished with a .246 average. According to GoPrincetonTigers, the match featured one of the “most efficient offensive performances for the team in years.”
Huhmann carried the team offensively with 11 kills, while Ratter contributed 9 and Dixon added 8 to the 34 total kills during the match. Kelly set these hitters up with 30 assists during the match, bringing his season total to 973 assists.
This weekend was special for the graduating seniors who played their last regular season game in Dillon Gym.
“We all realize that we have a limited number of games in our career here at Princeton, and especially for the seniors it’s important to make the most of every opportunity we have to play here.” Kelly said. “I think that’s why it’s so cool to be able to do something so special in the seniors’ final few matches at Princeton.”
As the Tigers begin to prep for the upcoming EIVA weekend, they will be found pregame doing some short serve and pass practice and scouting out their opponents before the match, after which they usually have about an hour of relaxation before they report back to the gym.
“In that time we usually go to Wucox [Wu and Wilcox] dining hall as a team for a fun relaxed dinner before the match, then we just hang in the team room, blasting some music to get everyone fired up before game time,” Kelly explained.
Every member of the team also has their own pregame ritual.
“For some reason, I’ve eaten a cheeseburger before every home match this year, and as long as we keep winning, I don’t plan on stopping,” Kelly said.
The EIVA tournament will open on Thursday night in Dillon Gym as the second-seeded team, George Mason, plays the third-seeded team, Penn State in the semifinals at 5 p.m. The Tigers are currently the first seed in the EIVA and will take on the fourth seeded Saint Francis following the semifinal game at 8 p.m. The winners of these two matches will face each other on Saturday night at 7 p.m. for the championship game.
Updates on tickets and live streaming information will be posted to the GoPrincetonTigers website during the week, as the information becomes available.