When the men’s volleyball team begins its 2013 season on Tuesday, Princeton will have an unfamiliar asset on its side: experience. After three seasons with at least three freshmen in the starting lineup, this year’s Tigers will rely on several upperclassmen, along with Cody Kessel ’15 and Tony Ensbury ’15 — two star sophomores who earned valuable playing time with national teams this summer.
Ensbury started at libero for Princeton as a rookie and leveraged that experience into a spot on the U.S. Junior National Team in August, beating out candidates from more prominent West Coast schools during a month-long training camp. With Ensbury digging up attacks, the U.S. team won the North and Central American junior tournament, its second title in eight biannual competitions dating back to 1998.
“It was a lot different than college … it’s high-level and intense, because you’re representing the U.S.,” Ensbury said. “You’re facing people from other countries, rather than friends who played at different schools.”
Kessel also got his first taste of international competition this offseason in the Asian Pacific Cup in Japan. The sophomore got to play alongside some professionals on the second-place U.S. team, which included Princeton coach Sam Shweisky as an assistant. “It was good to learn from their experience, the way they approached the game differently than a lot of college players and the tone they bring to the practices,” Kessel said.
A high-flyer with volleyball bloodlines, Kessel was named the EIVA Newcomer of the Year in 2012, leading the league with 4.0 kills per set en route to first-team all-conference honors. This year, he’ll be flanked by outside hitter Pat Schwagler ’14, the EIVA’s top rookie in 2010, who returns from a year off to bolster what could be one of the league’s strongest offensive attacks.
Princeton’s one area of inexperience is at setter, where the graduation of Scott Liljestrom ’12 leaves a hole in the starting lineup. Davis Waddell ’14, who backed up Liljestrom last year while also playing outside, is expected to take his place; Jeff Stapleton ’14 will also get chances. Both setters will have plenty of targets in Kessel, Stapleton, and middle blocker Michael Dye ’13, the league’s hitting-percentage leader last year.