Princeton Upsets Nittany Lions as Tigers Advance To The EIVA Championship
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- Down goes Goliath.
In a match full of comebacks and gritty performances, Princeton knocked off the No. 1 seed in the EIVA Tournament and the No. 2 team in the country, Penn State.
Princeton took the lead from the very first point and captured momentum early.
That first point was a service error, which was commonplace early. It was not the 20 service errors that Penn State had in this match that coach Mark Pavlik saw as the difference-maker.
“The real difference was the serve-pass game,” Pavlik said. “They had four aces in game one, if we passed four balls and put four of those side-outs away, add four points to our score.”
Princeton had one less service error and two more service aces throughout the match, a three-point swing in this competitive bout.
Penn State tried to battle back, but two of those four service aces that Pavlik talked about came as Brady Wedbush finished out the first set for Princeton.
The second set was more telling of the night for these two teams as it was decided with extra points, 28-26, and remained tight the entire way.
Penn State had finally taken the lead as the crowd inside of Rec Hall began to will the team back.
“I thought the fans did an unbelievable job,” Pavlik said. “The support we’ve had from them all year long has been something that’s made this season pretty special for us. They did not disappoint tonight.”
Princeton made the comeback late in the set to steal it away from the arms of the Nittany Lions.
That led to the biggest comeback of the night, behind the energy and intensity of the crowd the Nittany Lions began to claw their way back on the court.
Penn State took an early lead, but as was customary on Thursday night, Princeton came right back. Pavlik took a timeout with Princeton up 13-9 shifting momentum to Penn State.
The two teams traded punches for the rest of the set, but a block assist by Brett Wildman and Sam Marsh allowed Penn State to find its way into the win column.
Set four went to the Nittany Lions as soon as they were able to tie the set at nine. The blue and white went on a five-point run led by Cal Fisher and took a commanding lead through the finish line.
Penn State tied the match at two and sent it into a decisive set at number five. Brett Wildman, who finished with 16 kills on the day, talked about the turnaround in sets three and four.
“It’s just something that you try not to do, have a slow start,” Wildman said. “You’ve got to have a mentality like you did it, you pissed us off.”
That intensity was something that was brought by both sides as the fifth and deciding set rolled around.
Penn State took an early lead but gave it back on a late surge by Princeton.
“I think the key and it’s kind of what we try to bring to every point is the next point mentality,” said Joe Kelly. “Regardless of the outcome, whether we got a kill, they got a kill, whatever it is, we bring in the huddle tight together.”
Kelly and the Tigers came out of a timeout and took the momentum for the Nittany Lions.
Princeton tied it at 10 apiece and went on to win the final set on a kill for Ben Harrington.
Harrington finished the match with 21 kills, but none bigger than the one that sent them to the EIVA Tournament Final against NJIT on Saturday.
For Penn State, it will have to wait and see if an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament is coming its way.
“It is as excruciating as you want to make it,” said Pavlik. “The criteria is the criteria.”
Justin Ciavolela is a first-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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