Maybe the fifth set would have been the same. Maybe it wouldn’t. Harvard can spend the offseason wondering that.
Princeton could care less. It has a championship on its mind.
For the fourth time as a varsity program, the Princeton men’s volleyball will compete in the EIVA Championship match (Saturday, 7 pm) against top-seeded Penn State. The Tigers ended Harvard’s run of five-set victories over Princeton with a dominant 3-1 win in Thursday’s first semifinal match.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the guys,” said head coach Sam Shweisky, who is making his second trip to the EIVA Championship, and his first since his 2010 rookie season. “The whole group played so well. We came together and never stopped fighting. It was incredible to watch.”
Princeton defeated Harvard 25-20, 25-15, 22-25, 25-21 to reach the championship match and move within one victory of its second ever trip to the NCAA Championships.
The statistics back up the score, as Princeton was dominant in almost every statistical category. The Tigers outkilled the Crimson 59-46, outhit their Ivy rivals by .152 percentage points (.352-.200), and recorded more assists, aces, digs and blocks.
Of course, the only victory that mattered came on the scoreboard.
After a dominant first two sets, including a .483 hitting performance in the second, Harvard battled back late to win a tight third set 25-22. When you consider the Crimson’s recent heroics in five-set matches, you may have thought Princeton would come out tight in the fourth.
Instead, after a 3-1 lead early, the Crimson never led in its final set of the season.
“Devin and Pat said in the press conference afterwards that Harvard played well in the third set,” Shweisky said. “We just came back out in the fourth and got going again. Those two were unreal, killing 36 balls between them and both hitting at really high percentages.”
While those two helped close the win, Shweisky praised a 2014 First-Team All-EIVA honoree for getting the victory started.
“Tony Ensbury won the first set for us,” Shweisky said of his three-year starting libero. “He was flying around the court, yelling and screaming at the guys. His energy was outstanding tonight.”
Ensbury’s 18 digs was a career high, and that will help him play in his first EIVA championship match. The same can be said for the starting rookie duo of Chris Kennedy and Junior Oboh, who apparently didn’t realize that freshmen were supposed to be overwhelmed by the pressure of their first EIVA postseason.
“Junior and Chris were outstanding,” Shweisky said. “For freshmen to come out and play like that, it was really impressive.”
Kennedy may have had the biggest play of the match. Princeton had held the lead through most of the fourth set, but an over pass at 18-17 gave the Crimson a free swing to tie the match. The ball was set to Branden Clemens on the left side, where there was nobody between him and a tie set besides Kennedy.
That was more than enough for Princeton. Kennedy blocked the ball into the back middle of the court, opening a 20-18 lead and igniting a 4-1 run that basically clinched the win. His final set went to Schwagler, who put away his match-best 19th kill to send Princeton back to the EIVA championship match.
NOTES: Princeton, which earned varsity status in 1997, has competed in the 1997, 1998, 2010 EIVA Championship matches; the Tigers' lone title came in 1998 … Princeton's 1998 EIVA Championship marked the last time that Penn State has not won the league … Princeton split with both Penn State and George Mason this season; in both cases, the Tigers won at home and lost on the road … Princeton's win over Penn State this season was its first over the Nittany Lions since the 1998 EIVA semifinal, when third-seeded Princeton defeated second-seeded Penn State 3-1 … both Ensbury and junior Cody Kessel earned first-team All-EIVA honors this week, while senior Pat Schwagler and sophomore Devin Stearns earned second-team honors.