The No. 16 Princeton men’s volleyball team dominated at their midweek home opener against the No. 12 UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) Gauchos, winning three sets to one (25–18, 24–26, 25–16, 25–21).
After this decisive win, the Tigers now possess a 1–0 home record and a 4–3 away record, after recently losing two consecutive matches to then eighth ranked (now ninth ranked) Brigham Young University Bulldogs. Early in the season, the Tigers have already proven that they are prepared to make the best of their home-court advantage in Dillon Gymnasium.
The Tigers grabbed a swift and decisive 3–0 lead early in the first set, forcing the Gauchos into a timeout to regroup. The star of the set was certainly junior hitter Nyherowo Omene, who brought the Tigers’ lead to 18–10 with consistent kills that proved disastrous for the Gauchos.
An ace from sophomore middleback Ryan Vena and two service errors from UCSB placed Princeton at the cusp of determining the first set. A final ace from senior outside hitter Ben Harrington secured the opening set in favor of the Tigers, their first set of the season at home.
In the second set, the Gauchos proved they were not going down without a fight. First-year outside hitter Jameson Vaccaro delivered an expertly placed cross-court hit to give the Tigers a lead. After a string of errors, Princeton fell to a 6–4 deficit; however, the Tigers quickly recovered after another monstrous kill from Vaccaro.
The remainder of the set played out in a ping-pong style fashion with neither team leading by more than two points throughout. Vaccaro shined in his home debut, showcasing tips and back row kills to respond to the Gauchos second set push.
After an insane point that ended with a momentous kill, before which the Tigers were chased into the bleachers on defense, UCSB grabbed a pivotal 20–17 lead.
At this point the Gauchos were locked in on their serves and returns, but the Tigers managed to crawl back to a tie at 21-all after a clutch block from Omene. After further back-and-forth intense play from both teams, the Gauchos seized the set 26–24 to tie the match at a set apiece.
At 2–1 in the third set, the Gauchos attained a let point after an unanswerable Tiger kill by fortuitously placing the game ball into the ceiling gutters of Dillon Gym.
But the Gaucho luck did not last long as Vena returned a Gaucho tip with a dump to hand the Tigers an 8–4 lead. Senior middle-back Gavin Leising delivered kills and blocks, and a short while later, Princeton stood over UCSB with a commanding 21–13 third set lead.
The Gauchos shocked the Tigers into a timeout after playing incredible defense for three consecutive points, placing them at 21–16 — but the Gauchos would not tally a point for the remainder of the set, and the Tigers once again held the match lead, 2–1; 25–16 in the third set.
The opposing teams both began the fourth set in good shape, landing at a 12–12 tie after the first 24 points.
A service error and timeout on the Princeton side gave the Gauchos a slight lead at 17–15. Omene and Harrington turned the pressure up at the net with kills and a tip, respectively. Junior setter Henry Wedbush took it from there with three aces to place the Tigers on the precipice of winning their first home match of the season.
At 21–19, Princeton played a supreme point that displayed the entire team’s sheer skill with impeccable defense from Wedbush, and a staggering hit from Omene to settle the point. The Tigers clinched the match with a 25–21 fourth set won after a service error from the Gauchos.
Early in the season, the Princeton men’s volleyball team is still getting its feet wet. “Coming back from last year, we have a bit of a different team,” Harrington told The Daily Princetonian. “We have three or four new guys that we’re trying to work into the lineup, and it feels similar playing with the same guys from last year, but it’s always a different team,” he added.
Some of the new faces, however, are more than holding their own. The first-year, Vaccaro, who finished with 13 kills, is playing a vital role on this new-look team and has been proving himself as a starting caliber player, as he trailed only Omene in kills against UCSB.
“We have a lot of injuries right now, so every game almost feels like a new team that we’re playing with,” Harrington shared further with the ‘Prince.’ They aim to continue to build team chemistry and cohesion as the season progresses.
The Tigers will face No. 10 Pepperdine at 4 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 2 at Dillon Gymnasium, seeking to continue their early home success.
Josefina Gurevich is a Sports staff writer for the ‘Prince.’
Please direct any corrections to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.