The men's volleyball team was hoping to use this weekend's matches in the friendly confines of Dillon Gym to climb the standings in the Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association before heading on the road for the next five contests.
As the Tigers discovered, however, things don't always turn out as planned.
Princeton (5-5 overall, 4-3 EIVA) managed to win the first and third matches of the weekend, dropping the second in a heart breaking five-game loss to visiting Juniata (5-6, 2-4). The Tigers pounded a weak Southampton (0-10, 0-4) team Friday, coasting to a three-game win — 15-5, 15-8, 15-11 — and rallied from Saturday's loss to beat Springfield College (7-5, 4-3) by scores of 15-4, 15-7, 15-9, Monday.
The second game in the match against Southampton opened with several lineup changes on the Princeton side of the net, including a rare substitution for senior setter and captain Jason Morrow.
"They're not as strong as they've been in the past," head coach Glenn Nelson said. "We thought Juniata would be a big match and we tried to save some players."
Unfortunately for Nelson's squad, the strategy would not produce the desired result the following night.
Saturday the Tigers squared off against Juniata in search of their eleventh consecutive win since the series began in 1995. It was not to be, however, as the Eagles outlasted Princeton, winning in five games.
The Tigers opened the evening by making many of the same mistakes that had haunted the team earlier in the year — missing scoring opportunities and committing three service errors in the first game. Juniata crept out to a 10-5 lead on their way to a 15-8 win.
The next two games would be the highlight of the weekend for Princeton.
Starting the second game much as they had the first, the Tigers soon found themselves in danger of falling behind two games to none in the match. The Princeton offense came alive, however, and the Tigers came back to tie the game at eight points apiece. They would go on to take the game, 15-12, and knot the match at one game each.
The Princeton attack came through again in the third game, a back-and-forth affair in which the two teams split the first four points 2-2. The Eagle defense held off a late Tiger barrage to force the game to an extra point, but Princeton prevailed by a 16-14 count.
One game away from victory, however, the inconsistent Tiger offense went back into its shell.
Mistakes ended any hope Princeton had of winning the match before Juniata could force a fifth game. Several service errors and sloppy play on offense by Princeton allowed the Eagles to jump out to an 11-3 lead on the way to a 15-5 victory in the crucial fourth game.
In the fifth game, rather than scoring only off its serve, a team can tally points on any pass it wins. Emotions ran high in Dillon going into the fifth game against Juniata; one official was eventually forced to call Morrow to the net for a conference as a result of the noise coming from the animated Princeton faithful.
"I think they're just trying to have some fun," Morrow told the official when asked if he could calm the home crowd.
But this enthusiasm was not enough to carry the Tigers to victory.
The game ended in a flurry of scoring and the Eagles emerged with a 16-14 win, giving them the match.
"That was a tough one for us to lose," Morrow said of the match.
Princeton rebounded Sunday to capture an uneventful victory over Springfield in three games to close out the homestand.
Even in their dominant performance Sunday, the Tigers were plagued by problems with their service game. Princeton was nevertheless able to win the first two games of the match easily, 15-4 and 15-7.
The Pride jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the third game, but the Tigers rallied to tie the game at eight and eventually win, 15-9.
"It's good to get back on a winning note," Morrow said. "Hopefully this will give us a little bit of momentum."
"Right now we're kicking ourselves for losing to [George] Mason," Nelson said of the Tigers' early season EIVA loss. "There's still a lot of volleyball left to be played."
The Tigers begin their road trip tonight when they travel to New York City to take on NYU.