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Men’s volleyball flames Crimson to claim first EIVA wins

elshazlyvolleyballfeb2023
The Tigers were 0–2 in conference play entering the matches, but exited the weekend with a .500 record in the EIVA.
Photo Courtesy of Kenzy Elshazly / The Daily Princetonian.

The Princeton men’s volleyball team (6–8 overall, 2–2 EIVA) entered this past weekend with hopes of improving their 11–14 all-time record against the Harvard Crimson (4–8, 0–4 EIVA). On Friday and Saturday, they picked up consecutive wins over Harvard in two four-set battles. 

The Tigers won 3–1 on Friday night. Junior outside hitter Ben Harrington paved the path for his teammates, charging with a game-high of 17 kills, 10 digs, and four aces alongside his teammate, sophomore setter Henry Wedbush, who totaled 46 assists. 

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Sophomore right-side hitter Nyherowo Omene sparked the Princeton attack early with three back-to-back kills in the first set. This gave the Tigers a bit of room on the scoreboard, building a lead that ballooned to as large as 18–7 and allowed Princeton to easily claim the first set, 25–16. 

Despite the seemingly comfortable position for the Tigers, Harvard fought back against the deadly duo of senior outside hitter Brady Wedbush and his brother, Henry. 

The second set was a close contest, with both Harvard and Princeton struggling to outmatch each other or gain significant leads. Tied late in the set at 25-all, a Crimson kill bred hope for Harvard as they matched Princeton’s first-set triumph in a tight 27–25 win. 

The two teams maintained a neck-and-neck campaign throughout the third set until Harrington and first-year middle blocker Ryan Vena captured the breakaway to give the Tigers a chance to breathe, regaining a four-point lead. 

As the set drew to a close, a handful of unforced errors from the Crimson delivered the Tigers the set and thus a 2–1 lead. 

While the fourth set seemed to be taking a similar route of back-and-forth clashing, Brady Wedbush and Omene took matters into their own hands as they tore into Harvard’s defense to seal the win. 

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Friday’s strong win must have been top of mind as the Tigers displayed dominance with a score of 10–6 within the first 10 minutes of Saturday’s match. 

“We played a very clean game last night … [we wanted to] keep a lot of the same things that we were doing,” Harrington said after Saturday’s contest, during which he produced a spectacular performance with another game-high 17 kills.

But, on another night filled with point-by-point struggles, the Crimson refused to grant Princeton the first set win and came back, eventually winning the set 26–24.

In the second set, it was Omene and Harrington’s kills in combination with Vena’s blocks that stole the show. As the Tigers racked up the points to garner a comfortable 20–12 lead, an ace from Harrington granted Princeton their first set point of the match, with a subsequent out-of-bounds ball giving a glimpse at early glory for the Tigers as they took the set with a score of 25–13.

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The Crimson started off the third set with their first early lead of the match, taking 14 of the first 25 points. A Princeton timeout evened the scales of momentum to give the Tigers and Crimson an equal 20–20 score heading into the final points of the crucial set.

Harvard seemingly held onto that slight edge, with two set-point opportunities. Both times, Princeton saved the set.

“Analyzing the score and the probability of winning and losing is sometimes detrimental to playing as hard as you can,” Princeton head coach Sam Shweisky told The Daily Princetonian. 

The Tigers’ focus enabled them to put on an exhilarating rally to get to 24 points. Following another 24–24 tie, it was Vena’s tip directly over the net that gave the Tigers the set, 26–24.

With the finish line close in the fourth set, Harvard looked overwhelmed with tension, paving the way for Princeton to acquire a 22–17 lead. Back-to-back timeouts for the Crimson failed to translate into on-court success, as a service error from Harvard gave the Tigers a chance at match point. The Tigers pulled through to win their second match in under 24 hours.

As the Tigers hope to continue their home luck in Dillon Gymnasium next weekend against the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights (4-7, 1–4 NEC), they carry with them the cautious confidence that comes from having dominated an Ivy League team.

“That could be our downfall sometimes, where we just kind of fold over and assume that we’ll win,” Omene said. “Despite us winning both matches, we still feel like we could do more, especially when we go into conference play.”

Kenzy Elshazly is a contributor to the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’ Please direct any corrections requests to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.

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