Story Courtesy of George Mason
PRINCETON, N.J. – Whether it was the old school East Collegiate Volleyball League, the days of the Tait and Hay divisions or the current EIVA alignment, no George Mason team had won ten consecutive conference matches before this season. That changed Saturday night when the 2018 squad unseated the 2016 team's previous top honor by defeating Princeton in a 3-2 comeback victory.
For the second straight match and the third time this season, sophomore Hayden Wagner (19), RS-senior Christian Malias (15) and junior Kyle Barnes (11) clocked in with double-digit kills in the same match. Wagner led the Patriots in kills for the 11th time this season while having at least a share for the team lead in each of the last five matches. The York, Pa. native pushed his kill total and average to 269 and 3.74 per set on the season.
Saturday was Barnes and Malias' 10th and ninth match of double-digit kills on the season. Barnes has now reached double-digits in four straight matches while Malias narrowly missed his third career double-double by adding nine digs to his stat line – pushing his career total to 478.
Graduate student Johnny Gomez led the Patriots in digs with 11 for his 10th match this season of double-digits. Gomez got four of his digs in the final two sets of the match, a sequence where Mason held Princeton to an .093 attack percentage.
Senior Brian Negron led another .300+ attack at the setter position and added another 50-assist match under his belt for the second straight night, this time assisting 51 kills. Negron now has 3,520 assists in his career and needs 39 to pass Jonathan Hanners for second all-time in program history.
"Going five in two nights is not easy, but our boys never quit – ever." head coach Jay Hosack said. "We don't look at the score, we just look at the next point. The long road trip is over and now we get to finish the year at home."
Princeton was off and running in the opening set with the first two points. Kyle Barnes' ace tied it at 4-4 to set up an eventual 3-0 run Mason to go up 7-6 – a run that had a block, a kill and an ace from the Patriots. The momentum soon shifted in Princeton's favor as the Tigers enjoyed runs of 5-0 and 4-0 to take a 17-12 lead and force Hosack to use both his timeouts early. The Patriots refused to quit and responded with a 7-1 run to bring the deficit to one at 22-21. Malias notched his third kill of the set late in the action, but the valiant comeback effort fell short as Princeton took the opening frame 25-23.
Getting off to a fast start in the second set proved to be key as the Patriots rode two early 3-0 runs to a 9-3 lead right off the bat. They kept the foot on the gas pedal with another 3-0 run that had back-to-back kills from Negron and didn't give an inch with Malias' second kill of the set to put his team up 12-4. Princeton called timeout with the Patriot lead at 15-6 and the break seemed to have benefited the Green and Gold, as they exploded for 10 of the last 25 points - including the final five to claim the set 25-11. Malias had a kill and Barnes logged another service ace during the team's final 5-0 run of the stanza.
Wagner took off in the third set by compiling seven kills and cracking double-digits for the fourth straight match. Mason's first 3-0 run of the set came by kills from Jack Reese and Barnes, as well as an ace from Malias. Neither team would let the opponent seize any sort of sustained momentum early on as fans saw the middle set tied 15-15. In a situation where the first team to score 10 more points would win the set, Princeton acted first with a 3-0 run to go up 18-15 but the Patriots fought back to tie things up at 19-19. Princeton called timeout and made the necessary adjustments en route to taking six of the next 10 points for a 25-22 set three win.
Mason broke the ice in set number four with an early 4-0 run to go up 7-6. Mason pushed it to a 12-10 lead with a 3-0 run but Princeton answered with a 3-0 run of their own to go up 13-12. With the score later tied 16-16, Malias and Negron registered kills to put Mason in front 19-16 for a lead comfortable enough to not be relinquished. The team finished the set strong behind three late kills from Wagner that brought his total to 17 and secured a 25-18 fourth set win.
The Patriots had intentions of completing the comeback victory and grabbed an early 3-1 lead off a Bryce Gatling service ace. Negron added another ace to put the Patriots up 7-2 which turned out to be all the momentum they needed. Mason registered 10 kills in the winner-take-all fifth set and did a good job sharing the volleyball. Barnes, Wagner, Malias and Reese all had two kills apiece, as well as Negron's fourth of the match to ink a 15-9 victory and complete the come from behind 3-2 win.
Mason returns home to take on Saint Francis (Pa.) on April 6 and Penn State on April 7. The matches will be the fourth and third to last contests of the regular season and will likely have major seeding implications for the EIVA Tournament.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE
• Dating back to his Belmont Abbey days, Johnny Gomez passed 900 career DI/II digs with his 11 on Saturday night. He now sits at 908.
• While Gomez has 908 digs at the DI/II level, 684 have come while wearing a George Mason uniform. Helped by his 11 digs on Saturday night, Gomez passed Kris Grunwald for the sixth highest career total in program history.
• Mason posted a .692 attack percentage in the fifth set with a 10-1-13 spree. The late-match performance is good for the highest team hitting percentage in a set this season.