The Princeton University women’s volleyball (16–6, 10–4) team swept Columbia (5–19, 2–12) in a dominant three-set victory (25–12, 25–14, 25–14) on Nov. 12 in a match dedicated to celebrating Pride Night. Pride Night promotes and celebrates the inclusiveness of the LGBTQ+ community in sports. Despite having lost the conference title to Brown, the Tigers were motivated to end the season on a strong note.
The Tigers opened the set with three consecutive points that were jump-started by a service error from Columbia’s Emily Teehan. They continued with a four-point run made possible by three kills from Princeton junior right-side hitter Avery Luoma.
Both teams served well to force multiple attack errors from the other side of the court. The Tigers, however, pulled away towards the end of the set with another four-point run that ended with a strong kill by junior outside hitter Melina Mahood. The Tigers ended the first set with a clear lead, 25–12.
The Lions and Tigers played evenly at the start of the second set, with Columbia even taking the lead halfway through the set. Their lead was short lived, as the Tigers ended the set with a dominant nine-point run started by a kill from senior middle blocker Julia Schner and excellent serving by junior libero Cameron Dames.
“We wanted to serve tough. Our ability to serve tough put the other team out of its system, so I think that was one of the keys to that run,” head coach Sabrina King told The Daily Princetonian. The Tigers closed out the set with a final tally of 25–14.
The third set started with an attack error by junior outside hitter Elena Montgomery, who, coming into the game, ranked second in the Ivy League in points per set and kills per set. The Tigers responded with an eight-point run that built off their momentum from the last set.
Luoma, Schner, Montgomery, Avery, and Dames all made big plays that were pivotal to the team’s run early in the set.
“We executed our game really well: we passed well, we set well, we served really well, so they couldn’t hit well,” Luoma said.
Despite exchanging points evenly with Columbia during the second half of the set, the Tigers’ lead was too strong to overcome, ending with a final score of 25–14 again.
Luoma led the team with a total of 11 kills throughout the match, made possible by Columbia’s defense.
“The Columbia block [left] the right side open, so actually Avery got to have way more swings than she’s been able to without a block-up which is very rare,” Mahood said. “I was happy to kind of play like her decoy tonight.”
In addition to the Tigers’ strong chemistry with one another, the team’s overall seamless dynamic was evident through the match.
“The whole game came together really perfectly for us and allowed all of us to play well, not just myself,” Luoma said.
Indeed, the Tigers dominant, well-rounded victory was the result of contributions from multiple players throughout the three sets. Luoma’s excellent offensive was supported by 13 digs from Dames, five blocks by Schner, and 29 assists from junior setter Lindsey Kelly.
Schner echoed sentiments about the team’s well-roundedness.
“Honestly, I can’t do it without them. I take the third touch, so it takes two other people before me to really do anything, so I can’t take really any credit for that alone,” she said. “We played really well together as a team, as a whole. I think we went into this game with a lot of confidence and [...] I think we pulled it off.”
The team then made it 2–0 over the weekend by beating Cornell (7–15, 3–11) on Saturday on senior night. The Tigers swept the Big Red in 3 sets (25–15, 25–22, 25–20) for their second sweep of the weekend.
The win marked the final game for the team’s two seniors, Schner and senior outside hitter Grace Klepetka.
“It’s definitely bittersweet. It’s been a really, really fun season coming back from a long break with COVID. I think our team is very new and very young, [so] it was fun to see how we were able to develop such a really strong team culture in just three months,” Schner said. “[It’s] sad for it to be ending, but I think we set it up for a really strong next few years.”
Klepetka shared this sentiment: “I mean the season, it wasn’t exactly how we wanted it to go, but being back on campus with things returning to normal, we’ve kind of done the best that we can.”
“I’m so grateful for Princeton volley,” she continued. “It’s given me a family I didn’t know I could have so I’m just very grateful for the coaches and the team and everything.”
Ben Burns is an Associate Sports Editor at the 'Prince.' He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Caronline Ji is a Contributing Sports writer at the ‘Prince.’ She can be reached at email@example.com.
Erin Lee is a Contributing Sports writer at the ‘Prince.’ She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.