Cody Kessel came to play, but the best individual offensive performance so far this season for Princeton men's volleyball wasn't enough Friday night in Springfield, Mass., against Concordia. The Tigers lost to the Eagles, 3-0, in the semifinals of the 2014 Volleyball Hall of Fame Morgan Classic, despite 26 Kessel kills.
Princeton started slowly against Concordia -- the reigning NAIA national champions -- and never managed to fully recover. The Eagles flew out to a 6-1 lead in the opening set and would never trail in a 25-23 victory. Thanks in part to Kessel's eight kills in the first, the Tigers clawed back to within a point at 23-22, and again at 24-23, before Concordia (13-3) closed it out.
Another early run by the Eagles in the second set had Princeton playing from behind again. The Tigers led 2-1 until a 12-5 burst by Concordia had the Eagles up, 13-7. Princeton managed to pull within four points, 22-18, only to see Concordia score the final three of the set. Nine Kessel kills accounted for half of the Tigers’ tally in a 25-18 setback.
In the third and final set, Princeton fell behind 4-1, but managed to avoid further damage. The Tigers, in fact, used a 12-5 run midway through the set to grab a 16-12 edge. Concordia, however, stormed right back to regain the lead. While Princeton fended off defeat down 24-20 with a 3-0 spark, a Harrison Carroll kill finished the Tigers for good, 25-23.
Kessel kept the orange and black competitive, as he hit .533 on the night. The junior outside hitter surpassed Pat Schwagler's previous 2014 team-high of 22 kills at Harvard (five sets). No Tiger had more than 13 kills in a three-set match entering Friday.
For Kessel, the 26 kills were his most in a match since he posted 31 against Juniata (five sets) on March 24, 2012 during his sophomore year. In a three-set match, the Colorado native had a previous career high of 14.
Meanwhile, senior setter Davis Waddell was the source for much of Kessel’s success with a team-leading 24 assists. Freshman setter Chris Kennedy added 14 assists. Defensively, Schwagler, who was a distant second to Kessel for the Tigers with six kills, had a Princeton-best eight digs.
The Tigers hurt themselves by committing 22 attacking errors to only 10 for the Eagles and 14 service errors to five for Concordia (13-3). Back on Jan. 29 when the two met at Concordia in Irvine, Calif., Princeton lost a more competitive match in five sets.
The Tigers play in the Volleyball Hall of Fame Morgan Classic consolation game on Saturday at 6:00 p.m. against UC Santa Cruz. The Banana Slugs (7-7) finished fifth in Division III in 2013.
Following the weekend, Princeton is set to begin a six-match home stand against EIVA opponents. The stretch begins Tuesday night at 7 against Rutgers-Newark, and it will include showdowns against both Penn State (Feb. 28) and Harvard (March 8).