When a team that entered a season with high expectations struggles, a match with a weaker team is a godsend. Men's volleyball was blessed with a Division III team, No. 8 Vassar (2-8), whom they pummeled 3-0 (15-7, 15-12, 15-2) Tuesday.
"Because they are not a really strong team, we got to worry about ourselves," senior middle Derek Devens said. "We took care of our side of the court and tightened up ship."
Concentrating only on themselves allowed the Tigers (5-4) to clean up their play and cut down on errors in the first and third games. By the end of the match, the team was playing mistake-free. Princeton hit and passed crisply and accurately, a big improvement on the team's previous error-ridden performances.
The team's errors threw away three chances to win game four and tie up Feb. 11's match against Rutgers-Newark.
A step above
"We simply played at a higher level than we have been," said Devens. "We did not play down to their level, as we have when we played other weak teams."
The first and last games exhibited the best of this year's team. Princeton has become more cohesive with increased game experience. The team needs to come together, because so far this season, this team's performance can only be described as sporadic.
The Tigers began the season ranked No. 14 in the country with high hopes of earning a berth in the Final Four. During the first eight games, however, the team has only showed flashes of its ability.
Unfortunately, during the second game against Vassar, the team reverted to its inconsistent, error-filled play and allowed the much weaker team to score 12 points. Junior opposite Brandon Vegter made a team-leading seven errors and was replaced by freshman Eric Berg after the second game. Vegter started in place of senior captain Scott Birdwell who was away on a trip.
"We need to put together three solid games," head coach Glenn Nelson said. "It looks like we need to get behind to pick up our play."
The Tigers hope to play consistently this Sunday when they meet No. 9 Loyola (Illinois) at Dillon Sunday. The Ramblers are one of the best teams outside of California and will be a difficult midseason test for Princeton.
"We are capable of beating Loyola, as we showed in in the first game against Penn State," Nelson said.
The Tigers won the first game of the Penn State game, 15-12, before losing three straight to fall to the Nittany Lions Feb. 6. The confidence from Tuesday's victory will help Princeton mentally prepare for the important matchup.
"Our success against weaker Vassar will help us to relax in bigger situations," Devens said.
Princeton knows that if it plays like it did the in last game that it can beat any team.
"One of these matches, we will break through and show our talent," Nelson said.
The Tigers want Sunday to be that breakthrough game. They have one more warm-up match before Loyola, against Division III No. 2 Springfield (10-2) Saturday at 7 p.m. in Dillon Gym.