FAIRFAX, Va. – The George Mason men's volleyball team recorded its third consecutive victory on Senior Night by defeating NJIT in four sets (25-21, 23-25, 25-23, 25-19) on Saturday night at the RAC gym.
Sophomore Radoslav Popov was phenomenal in attack for Mason and registered 19 kills on 30 total attempts, while also contributing a serve ace and eight digs. Redshirt sophomore Jack Wilson had 14 kills and three serve aces. Redshirt freshman Weston Barneshad an exceptional defensive performance and finished with 16 digs. Freshman setter orchestrated the Patriots' attacks with 45 assists in the match. Jabarry Goodridge was the Highlanders' main weapon in attack and not only finished with a team-high 17 kills, but also led the team with 11 digs. The match was the Patriots' last home fixture of the season, and before it started they paid special tribute to the lone senior on the team Hunter Stevens, who finished with six kills.
Similarly to Friday's match against Princeton, an early ace by sophomore Christian Malias gave the Patriots (14-12, 7-5 EIVA) their first lead at 2-1. After minutes of point exchanging, it was the Highlanders who were the first team to pull up by two points at 9-7. Mason responded with a 3-0 run to regain the lead and later two consecutive aces by Malias gave his team their first two-point lead at 13-11. The Patriots' first block point came from Negron at 17-15 and an attack error by NJIT right after gave Mason its largest lead up to that point – 18-15. The Highlanders won back-to-back points after the timeout before a kill by Wilson gave the Patriots some breathing space at 19-17. Another NJIT attack error gave Mason a four-point lead in the closing stages of the set – 22-18 – and that was advantage when the Highlanders' coach called his second timeout moments later at 23-19. In fact, it was four points again that separated the two teams at the end of the set, which Mason won 25-21 on a kill by Stevens.
Mason carried the momentum into the second set and took a 6-3 lead, which was erased by NJIT with three consecutive points. The Highlanders took their first lead at 10-9 with an ace and doubled it at 14-12, but a 4-0 run by Mason which included back-to-back blocks by Stevens and Malias put the Patriots back in front – 16-14. The lead reached its highest point at 19-16 on a kill by Malias, but the Patriots won only one of the following eight points to find themselves trailing 23-20 late in the set. The two timeouts called by coach Fred Chao only helped Mason get within a point at 24-23 on a kill by Popov, but the Highlanders closed the set on the following play – 25-23.
A kill by Stevens for 3-1 gave Mason its first of numerous two-point leads early in the third set. NJIT came within one on several occasions, but before the Highlanders could come on level terms, the Patriots grabbed a three-point lead on a Wilson kill for 10-7. Popov increased that lead with an ace to make it 13-9, but NJIT went on 5-1 run to melt it to one. Malias ended the run with a block and followed it up with an ace to cover some of the lost ground for the Patriots and force a NJIT timeout at 17-14. The lead grew to four again on an attack error by the Highlanders right out of the timeout, but they went on another run and this time made the extra step to tie the score at 19, forcing coach Chao to gather his players in the huddle. As many times throughout the course of the season, the timeout had an immediate effect and the Patriots won two consecutive points for 21-19. Despite coming within one on four occasions for the remainder of the set, the Highlanders could not prevent the Patriots from winning the set 25-23 on a kill by Popov.
The fourth set was the most-one-sided from the very beginning. The Patriots started with a 4-1 run on Negron and Malias' serving sequence and an ace by Wilson shortly after increased the lead to four – 7-3. The Highlanders trailed by as many as five before they could cut it to three at 11-8, which was the closest they got to Mason. Wilson's third ace in the match for 17-10 reached the lead's high point and although NJIT came within five on three occasions, the Patriots won the set and match without much trouble with a block-out by Malias for the final 25-19.
Mason has a few days rest before it faces Harvard on Wednesday in the semi-finals of the EIVA championship, which will be hosted by regular-season winner Penn State.