FAIRFAX, Va. – The George Mason men's volleyball team defeated Princeton University in straight sets (25-23, 29-27, 25-22) at the RAC gym on Friday night and thus moved to third place in the EIVA standings.
Coach Fred Chao relied on only seven players throughout the match, of which two finished in double digits for kills — redshirt sophomore Jack Wilson with 12 and sophomore Radoslav Popov with 11. Aside from the 32 assists that he had, freshman setter Brian Negron also led the Patriots with 10 digs. Cody Kessel led Princeton with 15 kills while Tony Ensbury finished with a team-high eight digs.
Sophomore Christian Malias, who started at the outside hitter position after his solid performance against Sacred Heart last weekend, got the Patriots (13-12, 6-5 EIVA) going in the first set with an ace for 2-1. A run by the Tigers (11-12, 6-6 EIVA) followed and they accumulated a three-point lead at 9-6. Mason found a quick response and tied it immediately at nine. They then pushed to regain the lead, which happened on a block by Negron at 16-15. From that moment on, the teams exchanged the lead a few times, but it was the Patriots who got the first set point at 24-23 with a kill by Wilson. In the following play, Wilson continued the momentum and won the set for Mason with a kill.
Mason pulled away early in the second set when an attack error by the Tigers gave the Patriots a 3-1 lead. Although Princeton tied it with consecutive points, Mason didn't drop the momentum and enjoyed its largest lead of the match so far at 9-6. The Tigers fought back to tie the score on several occasions and even took the lead for the first time at 11-10. Although they surrendered the lead momentarily with a serve error, they went on a 4-0 run to get a 15-11 lead. The Patriots quickly got back within a point at 16-15 and thought they had tied the score at 16, but a close call went Princeton's way for 17-15 instead. The Patriots' momentum was brought to an end and they entered the final stage of the set trailing 21-17. Coach Chao took a perfectly timed timeout and thanks to two consecutive kills by Wilson, an attack error by Princeton, and a block by sophomore Graham Gresham, the Patriots were suddenly back in the set at 21-21. Princeton then fought to the first set point at 24-23 and similarly to the first match between the teams earlier in the season, it was all about iron nerves after that. Mason showed strong side-out game and canceled three set points for Princeton before grabbing their first in the most climatic manner at 27-26 — on an ace by Negron. The Tigers responded to the first two, but their nerves cracked on Mason's third set point and they committed an attack error for the final 29-27 in the set.
The set loss didn't discourage Princeton, but rather motivated the Tigers, because they started the third set on a 6-2 run. Coach Chao took a much-needed timeout and it had an immediate effect—seniorHunter Stevens ended Princeton's run with a kill on a well-orchestrated side-out play, but that was only the beginning. Mason's serving and blocking started to hurt the Tigers and the score was tied at seven before two consecutive aces by Popov gave the Patriots a 9-7 lead and led to a Princeton timeout. Immediately after the timeout the lead grew to three, but then the Tigers enjoyed a good spell and managed to tie the score at 13. An ace by Wilson for 16-14 helped Mason regain the momentum and tie its largest lead at 20-17, when Wilson tipped the ball over the Princeton blocker for a kill with the help of Malias' and Gresham's quick reflexes, which prevented a Princeton point. The Tigers were not going anywhere, however, and after coming within one point on two occasions, they tied the score at 21-21. The Patriots responded with back-to-back points to gain a two-point advantage late in the set, which was retained on a kill by Popov for Mason's first match point at 24-22. The crucial win came on the following play from a Princeton attack error. The win guaranteed the Patriots at least the three seed in the EIVA Tournament next week.
Mason welcomes NJIT on Saturday for its final home game of the season and Senior Night. Doc Nix and the Green Machine will be at the Rac for the match at 7 p.m. The Patriots earn the second seed in the tournament if they defeat NJIT and Harvard falls to Sacred Heart tomorrow.