Princeton put together something special just to reach the EIVA semifinals, but top-seeded Penn State showed that it still remains the class of Eastern volleyball. The Nittany Lions extended their win streak over Princeton to 32 with a 3-0 victory Thursday night and will play George Mason Saturday for the EIVA title.
Princeton concludes its season with a 13-10 record, but it will carry significant optimism into the 2013 season; six of Princeton's seven starters Thursday night, including EIVA Newcomer of the Year Cody Kessel, will return to the Orange and Black next season.
Kessel, who led all freshmen in the nation with 4.0 kills per set this season, led the Tigers with 13 kills Thursday during their 25-20, 25-12, 25-22 loss to the Nittany Lions (22-5). Kessel added two blocks and two digs, while fellow freshman Will Siroky had four kills and two blocks.
Junior setter Michael Dye, who earned All-Tournament honors when he helped Princeton to the 2010 championship match, had a solid match with six kills and two blocks, while sophomore Jeff Stapleton had three kills and no errors. Freshman Tony Ensbury led the Tiger defense with nine assists.
Senior Scott Liljestrom ended his career with 27 assists and three blocks; the three-year starter earned second-team All-East honors this past season, while both Kessel and Dye were named to the first team.
After playing a five-set thriller in their last meeting, Penn State looked to take quick control of the semifinal match. A kill by Tom Comfort gave the Nittany Lions an 11-3 lead in the first set. Princeton chipped away and eventually got to within two points (20-18), but Penn State pulled away. An 8-2 run midway through the second set gave the Nittany Lions a comfortable margin and, eventually, a 2-0 lead.
Princeton got out to a 12-9 lead in the third set, but Penn State took the next six points to open a three-point edge. Princeton got to within one at 22-21, but a service error and a kill by Joe Sunder gave Penn State match ball. A Siroky kill prolonged the match, but Sunder ended it with his 11th kill on 16 swings.
Princeton is now 2-34 all-time as a varsity program against Penn State, and it is 1-5 against the Nittany Lions in the EIVA playoffs. Penn State hasn't lost an EIVA playoff game since the 1998 semifinals, when Princeton scored the win and eventually won the tournament and reached the NCAA Championships.