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Men's volleyball takes down No. 2 Penn State en route to EIVA Championship title

<h5>Men’s volleyball celebrates their victory against Penn State.&nbsp;</h5>
<h6><a href="https://twitter.com/PrincetonVolley/status/1517485776677789699/photo/1" target="_self">@PrincetonVolley/Twitter.</a></h6>
Men’s volleyball celebrates their victory against Penn State. 
@PrincetonVolley/Twitter.

Princeton athletics has added yet another championship title to their long list of achievements.

Princeton men’s volleyball (12–12 overall, 10–6 EIVA) traveled to University Park, Penn. to compete in the Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (EIVA) tournament. The Tigers returned to the orange bubble with the title after a spectacular weekend. 

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The tournament kicked off on Wednesday, April 20, with Princeton facing off against fifth-seeded Saint Francis. The Tigers won the match 3–0 (25–21, 25–21, 25–23). 

The first set was a back-and-forth nail-biter until Princeton made a four-point run to bring them up 15–13. The two teams continued to trade points until a three-point run, started by a block from junior outside hitter/right side hitter Brady Wedbush and sophomore outside hitter James Hartley, gave the Tigers set point at 24–20. A kill by Gavin Leising gave Princeton the first set, 25–21. 

The second set started off with a kill by Hartley, which led the Tigers to take an early lead. 

In another close match, Saint Francis took the lead at 17–16, only for Princeton to respond with a four-point run and take the lead back. Another kill by Hartley gave the Tigers the set at 25–21. 

The third set was an even closer rally, with neither team taking more than a two-point run at any time. The Saint Francis Red Flash made a four-point run, tying up the game at 21–21, and the two teams went point-for-point until a kill by sophomore outside hitter Ben Harrington finished the set, and the match, at 25–23. Hartley and Harrington led the team in kills with 12 and 11 respectively, and senior setter Joe Kelly led with seven digs.

The second day of play marked an incredible five-set game, as Princeton took down first seeded and nationally ranked No. 2 Penn State 3–2 (25–16, 28–26, 23–25, 17–25, 15–12). 

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The first set demonstrated a strong start from the Tigers, as Harrington scored two service aces, taking a 10–7 lead. They managed to keep another run, putting them up at 16–11. Princeton kept this momentum until a 20–13 lead, where Wedbush scored back-to-back aces until the win at 25–16. 

The second set saw a strong fight from the Nittany Lions as they scored two three-point runs to put them ahead at 19–17. The Tigers were not ready to give the set up, however, and they managed to tie the game at 23–23. A kill from senior outside hitter Parker Dixon solidified the close win at 28–26.

In the third set, two three-point runs again from Penn State gave them the lead at 16–15. The Tigers pushed back with a lead at 18–16, but a run from Penn State took the lead again at 22–21, and the Nittany Lions won the set at 25–23.

In the fourth set, the Tigers let an unfortunate set go. Penn State battled to tie up the match at two sets each.

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The fifth set proved redemption for Princeton. After losing an early lead to Penn State, the Tigers took a four-point lead to put them up at 12–10. This momentum followed them through the set, and Harrington made his career-best 21st kill of the match to take the final set 15–12, winning the match overall 3–2. 

Hartley achieved the second-best number of kills during the match with 12, and both he and Harrington were tied for digs at eight. Kelly achieved a massive 50 assists, and Leising led in blocks with seven. 

This win broke the Nittany Lions’ 19-match win streak and extended the Tigers’ own win streak to nine games. The game also marked Princeton’s highest-ranked win, and it was the first time Princeton beat Penn State during the EIVA tournament. 

“Coming in as the underdog, we knew there was nothing to lose and we wanted to leave it all on the court,” Harrington told The Daily Princetonian. 

“Knowing that it could have been our last game playing together with this group of guys really made us lock in and enjoy the moment, and regardless of the outcome that was the most fun game of volleyball I’ve played in.”

In the tournament finals, Princeton headed off against the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) on Saturday, April 23rd. Tdhe Tigers went on to beat third-seeded NJIT 3–1 (23-25, 27-25, 27-25, 25-18). 

The first set of the game proved to be a game of cat-and-mouse as Princeton and NJIT fought with three-point runs to chase the lead. Despite large leads from the Highlanders, Princeton tied the score back up at 19-all. The Tigers even ended up taking the lead at 21–20, but NJIT ended up overcoming it and taking the set 25–23. 

The next three sets would be a series of comeback sets for the Tigers as they fought for the tournament title. Princeton came on strong in the second set, as back-to-back kills by Harrington buffered a three-point lead at 9–6. The Tigers maintained this pace, as Dixon mustered a kill to keep the lead at 17–14, and Princeton tied the match up with a 27–25 set win. 

In the third set, NJIT started with a large five-point lead, but the Tigers managed a run of their own to even up the score at 12–11. The scoreboard went point-for-point until the Highlanders managed a three-point run to give them the lead at 23–22. The Tigers did not give up, however, as a 3–0 push helped them secure the set at a nail-biting 27–25. 

The fourth and final set demonstrated Princeton’s unending motivation, as they dominated NJIT with a sizable lead for most of the game. They started out with control of the lead at 6–2, and maintained this all the way through with 22–13. The Tigers took the set at 25–18, the match at 3–1, and the championship title. 

Harrington was named the EIVA Newcomer of the year and EIVA Tournament Most Valuable Player. Kelly was named to the All-Tournament Team, and Hartley was named to the All-Tournament Team as well. The EIVA title is Princeton’s third, and the tournament left them on a 10-game undefeated streak. 

The Tigers will be back to start their NCAA tournament on Sunday, May 1st at 8 p.m. ET in Los Angeles, California to play North Greenville. 

“We’re all very excited for the NCAA tournament. We know every game is going to be a challenge and we are very thankful that we have the opportunity to play with each other one more time,” Harrington commented. 

Lizzie Evanko is an Associate Sports Editor at the ‘Prince’. She can be reached at eevanko@princeton.edu.

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