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Veteran men's volleyball seeks return to glory days

Last year, it would have been impossible for the men's volleyball team to live up to the expectations set by the previous year's miraculous journey to Hawaii – and the NCAA Final Four. But that painful reality wasn't completely grasped until the Tigers' season ended a few steps short of previous glory.

Princeton's hopes of another day in the sun were shattered when they fell much earlier than the 1998 team's unprecedented national semifinal appearance. In the quarterfinals of the Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association playoffs, Princeton's effort to repeat failed when it lost to the New Jersey Institute of Technology.


One year later, the Tigers are hoping that an extra year's experience will lead them back into the national spotlight. The Tigers enter this new season having lost only one player from last year's squad, which finished with a winning record (16-12 overall, 4-3 EIVA), but without the final results they had wanted.

"We definitely have the capability to make it back to at least the finals of the East," head coach Glenn Nelson said. "We just need to play more consistently for a longer period of time."

All-around effort

An effort from all parts of the team will be required if the veteran Tigers want to make the Final Four anything more than a fond memory. Because Princeton lacks the height of many of its competitors, the Tigers will have to rely on solid ball-handling skills and play more consistently from game to game. Passing and digging will take on a greater significance for the team, in place of blocking and sheer physical prowess. Steadiness within matches will also be an aspect the Tigers will look to improve upon.

The responsibility to perform time and again will fall on Princeton's elders, which include seniors outside hitter Pablo Clarke, middle hitter Tom Dowd, and setter and captain Jason Morrow, and a strong junior class. The Tigers only graduated middle Brandon Vegter and anticipate that freshman Dennis Alshuler will readily take over his role. The middle-attack, anchored by Alshuler, will be the foundation of the Princeton offense.

"I'm looking for Dennis to step up because he is very similar to Vegter, although he may not be quite as physical," Nelson said. "He is more savvy and has great all-around skills."

Even with their solid lineup, the Tigers will have to make some defensive changes on the court. Last year, they struggled late in the season to stave off five-to-six point surges by their opponents while on side-out.


Correcting this defensive problem will be a major objective as Princeton heads westward for intersession to open the season in California. The trip will be a homecoming for many of the Tigers, and they hope the comfortable environment will help jumpstart the season. Their first encounter will be at La Verne on Jan. 24th, followed by matchups with the strong squad of UC-Irvine and finishing up at Cal Baptist.

"The biggest thing is to get matches under our belt and that all-important real-game experience," Morrow said. "Our goal is to come back with at least two victories."

Once they return to campus, the Tigers will not be able to linger on California dreaming, however. They will promptly face George Mason and NYU on Feb. 6 and 9, respectively, at Dillon Gym. Matches against critical league rivals, such as the Patriots and Bobcats, will figure heavily into the team's seeding when the final EIVA tournament rolls around in April.

"I think that we should be encouraged by the tournament results last spring because we could've beaten NJIT," Morrow said. "Then they went on to almost win the East. We're definitely still among the top teams."

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Princeton's toughest competitors in the East will include Penn State and Rutgers-Newark. The Tigers failed to defeat either team last season, but they will have two opportunities to do so against each team this time around.

"Last year we were pretty young and needed a chance to grow together as a team," Clarke said. "We have more team chemistry simply because we're more mature and older."

The advantages of aging one year may seem trivial at first glance. But when Princeton considers the extra experience they gained from last year's campaign, the Tigers expect it to be a major advantage come tournament time.