Penn State Ends Thrilling Tiger Volleyball Season, Wins EIVA Championship
The Princeton men's volleyball team had a season filled with thrills and victories, but it fell one match short of the ultimate goal. Despite brilliant performances from both Cody Kessel and Pat Schwagler, Princeton fell in a tight three-set showdown to Penn State Saturday night at Rec Hall.
Kessel and Schwagler were both selected to the all-tournament team after combining for 24 of Princeton's 34 kills in a 25-23, 25-19, 25-18 loss to Penn State. The Nittany Lions, who have won every EIVA title since 1999, will advance to the postseason, though they will likely play in one of the NCAA play-in matches Tuesday.
Though the final two sets had larger margins, all three were close most of the way. The biggest difference came from behind the service line, where Penn State had nine aces — including the final three points of the match — and only seven errors, while Princeton had one ace and 11 errors.
There were a total of 33 tie scores and 11 lead changes throughout the match.
"I'm very proud of the way we fought tonight," head coach Sam Shweisky said. "We're all disappointed right now, and I like to see that as well. We came to win, and we had our chances. It's tough to get here and fall short, but these guys gave everything they had to return to the EIVA final. I credit Penn State and wish them well in the NCAA."
Schwagler, in his final collegiate match, had 12 kills and only one error (.579), and he added five digs. Kessel, a three-time first-team All-EIVA honoree, had 12 kills, six digs and two blocks, and he hit .435 along the way.
Freshman Chris Kennedy recorded 29 assists and three digs in his first finals appearance, while sophomore Devin Stearns added seven kills, five digs and three blocks. Junior Tony Ensbury, who made his first appearance on the All-EIVA first team, led Princeton with seven digs.
Princeton trailed 20-16 in the opener, but Pat Schwagler served the Tigers on a 5-0 run to open a one-point lead. The two teams sided out until a Penn State block gave the Nittany Lions a 23-22 lead. A hitting error gave Penn State a set ball, and a kill by Aaron Russell closed a 25-23 win.
The second set was plagued early by service errors on both sides, but both teams played efficient offense and kept the score within one point either way most of the way. A combo block by Matt Callaway and Peter Russell opened a 19-17 lead, and Penn State followed with three more to open up a four-point lead and force the Tigers to use their final timeout. Penn State would push through the rest of the set to open a 2-0 lead with a 25-19 win.
Princeton didn’t allow the late surge by Penn State affect it early in the third. Penn State was able to grab a slight early edge, but Schwagler once again served Princeton back into the lead. Penn State pushed back, running off four straight to turn a 14-12 deficit into a 16-14 lead.
Penn State was able to side out consistently and add a couple extra points to open a 22-18 lead, and three consecutive aces by EIVA Player of the Year Aaron Russell clinched the match and the championship for Penn State.
Princeton concluded its season with 16 wins, tied for the second-most in program history since the team earned varsity status in 1997. It is the fourth Tiger team to advance to the EIVA final, and it is only the second Princeton team during that time period to defeat Penn State, which happened during a 3-2 thriller on Feb. 28.