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Two years ago, the Tigers saw eight match balls in a five-set thriller. Last year, more than 900 people packed Dillon Gym for a four-set showdown. This year, Princeton wants one thing more than anything else as it resumes it rivalry with the 10th-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions — a victory.
The Princeton men's volleyball team (3-6, 2-1 EIVA) will host both No. 10 Penn State (12-2, 5-0) and Saint Francis (8-5, 3-2) in a pair of 7 pm league matches this weekend. The Tigers will open weekend play Friday night at 7 pm against the Nittany Lions, and they will follow with the Red Flash Saturday night. Both matches will be held in Dillon Gym.
Though recent history has included some of the most exciting matches in the history of the series, the Tigers will enter Friday night having lost 35 straight matches to the Nittany Lions. Penn State has won all six matches over the last two years, including a pair of 3-0 wins in the EIVA semifinals. The Tigers have taken at least one set in each of the last two home matches, both of which have come in front of capacity crowds at Dillon.
“We are very excited for the match on Friday," head coach Sam Shweisky said. "The support we have felt from the Princeton campus, student body, athletic administration, and University administration has been outstanding in preparation for this event. In addition, the excitement from the surrounding volleyball community can be felt on our numerous social media outlets. The anticipation for the match is palpable and continues to build as we approach Friday night. We encourage all spectators to arrive early as we may reach standing room only as we did last year.”
Princeton enters the weekend with a bit of momentum developing from its last two wins, including a 3-0 league win over Rutgers-Newark Tuesday night. Junior Cody Kessel, a former EIVA Newcomer of the Year, has played some of his best volleyball of late, and he currently ranks second in the EIVA in both kills (3.5) and points (4.1) per set.
Senior Pat Schwagler isn't far off the pace either; his 4.0 points per set rank third-best in the league, while his 3.1 kills are sixth-best.
Friday's matchup will feature the top four point scorers in the league, as Penn State has both the No. 1 (Aaron Russell, 4.6) and No. 4 (Nick Goodell, 3.8) scorers; that duo combined for more than half of Penn State's total points in a 3-1 win at Princeton last year.
While Friday night could draw the biggest crowd to Dillon Gym this season, Saturday's matchup could be just as important — if not more — in the greater scheme of things. Saint Francis has only lost to Penn State and Harvard, and it could be a prime challenger to a top-three position in the final league standings. Since 1998, when Princeton knocked off Penn State en route to its only EIVA title, the Tigers have only made one final (2010); that year, the Tigers got into the top three and didn't play Penn State during the semifinals.
Saint Francis may not have individuals in the top five, but its collective offense ranks third in the EIVA in both kills and points. The Red Flash opened the season with a victory over Ball State,which is currently ranked 14th nationally.