After finishing 3-19 last season, the men’s volleyball team has been right around .500 all season, remaining at 6-7 overall and 5-5 in EIVA play even after losing two games last weekend. A few factors have led to the Tigers’ resurgence, but none has been larger than the arrival of Cody Kessel ’15.
The standout freshman has been Princeton’s go-to hitter from day one, leading the team in kills in 10 of its 13 matches and ranking third in the EIVA with 3.67 kills per set. Though he grew up in Colorado – where boys’ volleyball is not a sanctioned high school varsity sport – Kessel grew up with the game through his father John, who works for USA Volleyball and often was Cody’s teammate in the summers, playing two-on-two volleyball on grass or sand courts.
“I really got good when I started playing doubles in the summer … that was the biggest influence on my game,” Kessel said. “You get a lot of touches playing the two-man game – you come back indoors, and your skills are better.”
Like most top players, Kessel hit mostly from the strong (left) side when he was younger – it’s an easier target for young setters to aim for, so good hitters get the most opportunities there – but with the Tigers, he has been swinging from all over the court, performing particularly well from the opposite side.
“Without him, our offense would be pretty much nothing. It would be very stagnant,” setter Scott Liljestrom ’12 said. “He can hit literally every set on the court, so that gives us a whole lot of versatility, and it really balances out our offense.”
The Tigers have other hitters who can rack up points, but late in a close set, the ball often finds its way to Kessel. In the first game against George Mason on Saturday, Kessel notched a kill from the back line and then served an ace to help the Tigers fight back from a four-point deficit; with the Patriots playing for the game up 24-23, Liljestrom again set to Kessel, who came out of the back line and hit the ball through two blockers for a crucial kill. (Princeton would go on to lose the set, however, and dropped the match 3-0.)
Liljestrom praised Kessel’s work ethic and motivation, but in games, what sets Kessel apart is his leaping ability – the 6-foot, 5-inch freshman can reach 11 and a half feet in the air, allowing him to hit over opposing blockers. Early in the third game on Saturday, Liljestrom tried to set Kessel in the back line but missed his target, leaving the ball too close to the net. Kessel set him feet just behind the three-meter line and leapt several feet forward, showing off his jumping talent before driving the ball down into the court for a kill.
“I get that from my parents, too,” he said.
WOMEN’S BASKETBALL will find out its NCAA Tournament draw on Monday night (the Selection Show airs at 7 p.m. on ESPN). Princeton could go to Maryland (again), Tallahassee (again), or other places on the East Coast such as Connecticut, Virginia, and North Carolina. Projections have the Tigers listed as a 9 or 10 seed, which would give them their best chance yet for the program’s first postseason victory.
The 2011-12 season may have been the best year for Ivy League MEN’S BASKETBALL in the modern era, but tournament selection committees didn’t give the Ancient Eight very much credit. Despite some strong wins and late momentum, Princeton was not picked to play in the NIT; the Tigers will instead travel to Evansville on Tuesday to open the College Basketball Postseason Invitational. Meanwhile, Harvard received a 12-seed in the NCAA Tournament despite having a much stronger profile than some teams that were slotted higher (I’m looking at you, Colorado).
Peter Callahan ’13 and Donn Cabral ’12 closed a very successful indoor season for MEN’S TRACK AND FIELD at the NCAA Championships this weekend. Cabral finished eighth in the 5,000 meters despite facing one of the deepest fields the event has ever seen, while Callahan took sixth in the mile one day later; both runners earned All-America honors. Now, the two standouts turn their focus toward the outdoor season, as the Princeton runners look to win a sixth straight Ivy League championship.
BASEBALL played two-time defending national champion South Carolina tough in three games but lost all three. Check out what staff ace Zak Hermans ’13 has been doing: In 10 innings across two starts so far, he has allowed one run, seven hits, and four walks while striking out 14 batters against two of the toughest teams Princeton will face this year. Meanwhile, SOFTBALL is off to a 2-7 start; pitcher and first baseman Alex Peyton ’13 homered in each of the Tigers’ last three games this weekend.
Kevin Whitaker ’13 is an economics major and Daily Princetonian sports editor.