Now is not important. What matters is later.
As men's volleyball prepares for its match at No. 8 Penn State (2-6 overall) tonight, the players insist that it is not a must-win for the Tigers (1-2). The season is still young, and everything will hinge on how well Princeton is playing in April.
"If we play well against Juniata, we'll have good momentum going into Penn State," senior opposite Scott Birdwell said.
The Tigers did in fact play well last night, besting Juniata by a score of 15-6, 15-12, 11-15, 16-14.
Yet tonight the Tigers face the team that knocked them out of the postseason last year, ending an impressive run that catapulted Princeton to No. 15 in the nation. The look and feel of this matchup will be very different from the one that took place almost a year ago.
Baby, come back
Penn State returns four All-East starters from last season but are trying to cope with the loss of outsides Ivan Contreras and Jason Kepner, two of the best players the Nittany Lions have ever had.
It has been a rocky road for Penn State thus far – they are 0-6 against nationally ranked teams. Also, the Nittany Lions are without two regular starters for tonight's match. Junior middle blocker Sergio Pampena is sidelined with a sprained ankle and senior swing hitter David Gealey is out with mononucleosis.
Princeton is regrouping after going 1-2 on its West Coast trip over intersession. The players are still adjusting to each other and their changing roles within the team. The graduation of defensive stalwarts Joe McCarthy '97 and Jon Wimbish '97, as well as Dan Eggers '97, has left this team decidedly different.
"We're getting our chemistry together," Birdwell said. "There's always a shift when a new class comes in."
The Tigers, however, do have the potential to beat Penn State this season – it is just a matter of when. Princeton will meet Penn State again in March, and the two teams seem likely to collide again in the Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association.
"We definitely have the ability to compete with them," Birdwell said.
A win tonight would be a first for this year's seniors, who have never beaten Penn State. However, this will not make or break the Tigers' season.
"These matches don't really matter – only for bragging rights, and we don't care about that," Birdwell added. "In the grand scheme of things, it's not important."
If they had to pick, a win over Penn State in April would be much sweeter than one tonight.