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Men's volleyball against Pepperdine. Photo Credit: Virginia Pham / GoPrincetonTigers

The No. 13 men’s volleyball team’s (18–13, 13–1 EIVA) historic season came to an end on April 30 as the team was defeated by No. 3 Pepperdine 3–2 (23–7, 9–3 MPSF) in Long Beach for the second round of the NCAA tournament.

The match was a five-set thriller (23–25, 25–19, 16–25, 25–22, 8–15) before the Waves took the win. The first set started strong for the Tigers; they were up 10–7 before a quick run by Pepperdine made it 10 for all. The Waves took their first lead, with the score sitting at 13–14. Princeton eventually made the score an even 15-all before a quick three points by Pepperdine forced a Tiger timeout. After trailing by five, the Tigers were able to come back to a 21–23 score, with the Waves eventually taking the 25–23 victory.

Set number two was less of a victory for the Waves, as Princeton broke Pepperdine’s 18 consecutive set win streak. After some back-and-forth play, the set was tied at 5–5. Princeton rallied five points to gain a 10–6 lead. The Tigers kept their lead, extending it to 16–11 as the Waves rallied back, but Princeton kept them within three points as they took the 25–19 win.

The Tigers started strong in the third set, taking a quick 6–3 advantage before the Waves came back to put the score at 7-all before taking the 8–7 lead. After this point, the Tigers wouldn’t come within two points of the Waves for the rest of the set. After a Tiger timeout with Pepperdine leading 17–12, the Tigers never came within four points until the Waves took the 25–16 victory. 

Set four was the thrilling set that encapsulated the match and the two teams perfectly. The lead was constantly changing, with neither team taking a lead of more than two points until they were tied at 12–12. After a timeout, the Tigers secured a 16–13 lead. Senior Kendall Ratter had back-to-back kills to add to his 24 total for the night, giving the Tigers a 19–15 advantage before the Waves came back and making the score 19–18. The score was point-for-point the rest of the set until a service ace from sophomore Joe Kelly and a kill from junior Parker Dixon gave the Tigers the 25–22 win to send the match into the fifth set.

Pepperdine went on a 4–1 run to start off the fifth set before a kill from junior George Huhmann stopped the momentum that built for the Waves, though it was short-lived. The Waves eventually took a 8–2 lead. The Tigers couldn’t get closer than five points to the Waves for the rest of the set, eventually giving Pepperdine a 15–8 victory and advancing them to the NCAA semifinals. 

“Although it would’ve been nice to beat Pepperdine in that match, it was an absolutely incredible season, and I think our team is extremely proud of the product we put on the floor this season,” senior Corry Short said of his feelings about the way the season ended.

Princeton was supported by a large fan base in Long Beach during their match, which helped them stay positive and keep fighting.

“Seeing the alumni and fans in the stands was an amazing sight. PrincetonVolley fans came out by the masses, traveling from all over the country to be there,” Short said.

The Tigers finished their historic season with 18 wins, the second-most to come from the program. In the final match, Ratter had 24 kills, with Dixon adding 11 and Huhmann also contributing 11. Kelly had 44 assists and 7 digs with junior Greg Luck adding 14 digs to his eight kills and two blocks.

Seniors Ratter, Short, and Billy Andrew played their final match as Princeton volleyball players on Tuesday, but their appreciation for the game and the program lives on.

When asked what advice he has for current and future Princeton volleyball players, Short said, “I would tell them to never get complacent. There is always room for improvement in all facets of one’s game, so come into the gym with a growth-minded mentality and buy into the process.”

Being growth-minded is exactly what allowed the Tigers to finish this season by making Princeton history.

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