The last time the men’s volleyball team beat Penn State, Cody Kessel was six years old. On Friday night, the junior outside hitter contributed 14 of Princeton’s 55 kills and helped secure the Tigers’ first win over the Nittany Lions since 1998.
After Princeton dropped the first set of the match 18-25, everything indicated that things would go in the same direction as they always have for Penn State. The No. 10 Nittany Lions have won every EIVA championship since Princeton’s lone title 15 years ago. Heading into Friday night’s match, Penn State had dropped just one conference loss in the last five years and entered on a nation-best 12-match winning streak.
Penn State’s circumstances quickly changed when Princeton clawed its way to a 22-25 second set victory. The Tigers ran away with the third set as well after jumping out to a formidable 8-1 lead off the serving of senior Pat Schwagler and freshman Chris Kennedy.
“We knew we had to be aggressive with our serving game to get Penn State out of system,” Kessel said. “We were able to do that this time better than we have in the past. Even though I think they hit better than us percentage wise, we were able to win the serve battle.”
A rough fourth game for the Tigers showed slowing momentum and forced it to go to a fifth, and Princeton found itself tied 10-10 in the final game. Sophomore Devin Stearns’ team-best 18th kill, however, opened the door for Princeton’s defense to take the game. Schwagler and freshman middle Junior Oboh blocked a shot by last year’s EIVA Player of the Year Aaron Russell to win the game 15-11.
“Our defense was outstanding,” said junior middle Will Siroky, who had six blocks on the night. “The fact that our serving and defense were key components of our performance is no accident. We worked on those two skills specifically throughout the year because we knew we’d have to serve tough and play nearly flawless defense to compete with Penn State.”
The victory comes at a key time for Princeton. The Tigers got off to a slow start this season, dropping the first five matches on their schedule, including a critical matchup against conference rival Harvard. Princeton’s Friday-night victory shook up EIVA standings in a major way. Penn State and Harvard are tied at the top of the leaderboard with 6-1 records, but Princeton (5-6, 4-1 EIVA) has played two fewer league matches than its rivals and will be counting on the momentum to carry them through the remainder of the regular season.
“Moving forward we’re still the underdogs since [Penn State has] won 15 conference titles in a row, but it’s great to know that we have what it takes to beat them,” Siroky said.
The Class of 2015 dominated the rowing program’s annual Crash P competition on Saturday. Junior Tim Masters of the heavyweight squad set the pace with a 5:53.6 in the 2-kilometer ergometer event, and classmate Bo Peard took the men’s lightweight victory in 6:12.3. Junior Becky Kreutter and freshman Christina Warren shared the win on women’s lightweight, both finishing in 7:17.6., and junior Faith Richardson beat out her teammates with a time of 6:45.4. Rowers from Special Olympics of New Jersey joined the Princeton students, racing in their own 1-kilometer flight. The heavyweight team has been working with the organization since November to introduce rowing to the Special Olympics athletes. The coaching staff and athletes have been training the athletes on the ergs and in the rowing tanks and hope to have a boat out on the water by spring.
The No. 7 women’s water polo team stayed perfect this weekend, beating Harvard 11-9 in their match televised on ESPNU. Sophomore Diana Murphy led the charge with four goals, and sophomore Ashleigh Johnson dominated the net in the second half with 17 saves and two steals.
Men’s basketball staved off Brown 69-64 on Saturday after beating Yale 57-46 the day earlier. The Tigers hit nine three-pointers in the victory over the Bears, including a critical one from senior T.J. Bray to push the Tigers ahead 63-61 in the final few minutes. This weekend’s sweep gave Princeton a much needed bump in its win column. The Tigers (17-8, 5-6 Ivy) currently sit in fifth place in the Ancient Eight.
Women’s basketball split its weekend games, defeating Yale, 85-63, before dropping a 61-58 game at Brown. Princeton (18-7, 9-2 Ivy) is tied for first place with Penn entering the season’s home stretch. After weekend games against Cornell and Columbia, the Tigers and Quakers will face off in the regular-season finale at Jadwin Gym March 11.