There were plenty of knowns about this Princeton men's volleyball team heading into the 2013 season. One of the unknowns was the dominant figure on the court Friday night, as freshman Devin Stearns posted his best match of the season to lead the Tigers to a 3-1 victory at Saint Francis.
While Saturday's showdown at Penn State may be the higher-profile match of the weekend, the importance of Friday's win can't be understated. In a league that sends its top four to the postseason, Princeton is now three matches ahead of fifth-place Saint Francis in the loss column, and it already has a road win over the Red Flash.
While junior Pat Schwagler, the EIVA leader in kills and attack percentage, had a match-best 20 kills for Princeton, much of the credit to this road win can go to Stearns. He recorded a double-double with career bests in both kills (17) and digs (11), and he hit .516 in the 25-18, 25-17, 19-25, 25-18 victory. Stearns had only one error in the match, and he added a service ace and three blocks.
"We were very pleased with Devin's performance tonight," said head coach Sam Shweisky. "The staff has kept the expectations very high for him the past few weeks, and tonight he performed outstanding."
Princeton also got seven kills and eight blocks from Cody Kessel, as well as six kills and a .500 attack percentage from Will Siroky, in the Tigers' second road win in EIVA play. Junior setter Davis Waddell added 41 assists and paced the Tiger offense to a .320 attack percentage, including a .500 mark in the clinching set, while five different players had at least four digs for Princeton.
The Tigers were dominant in both of the first two sets, but Saint Francis showed resolve with a 25-19 win in the third. Unwilling to let this key match get away, the Tigers opened the fourth set with 12 of the first 17 points and never looked back en route to the 25-18 clincher.
Princeton will take on Penn State Saturday at 7 pm. The Nittany Lions, a 3-1 home winner over George Mason Friday night, have won 19 straight home matches over Princeton; during that stretch, the Nittany Lions have yet to drop an individual set. Penn State and Princeton join George Mason and Harvard as teams with only one loss in EIVA play, while each of the remaining four teams have at least three losses.