UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The George Mason men's volleyball team will play in the 2015 EIVA Championship final after defeating Harvard in four sets (25-18, 25-22, 19-25, 26-24) in the early semi-final on Wednesday.
Redshirt sophomore Jack Wilson had a stellar attacking performance for Mason, finishing with a career-high 26 kills. Sophomore Radoslav Popov finished with 12 kills and three serve aces. Just as much credit goes to Mason's defense, led by redshirt freshman libero Weston Barnes with the incredible — and career-high —18 digs. Popov followed with nine, while Wilson and freshman setter Brian Negronhad eight each. Negron also provided 46 assists. Branden Clemens and DJ White had 14 kills each for Harvard, but the former also had team-high 10 digs.
Sophomore Graham Gresham gave the Patriots (15-12, 8-5 EIVA) an early 3-1 lead in the first set with a block, but the Crimson (13-12, 7-6 EIVA) tied the score at 5. They took their first lead at 7-6, but Gresham restored his team's lead at 9-8, this time with a kill. Mason's lead reached four at 15-11 and Harvard called a timeout. Later, Wilson matched that lead at 18-14 with a well-placed back-row attack, but the Crimson cut the lead in half with consecutive points. The Patriots responded in style and regained their four-point lead with an ace by sophomore Christian Malias for 20-16. Mason continued to dominate and Wilson continued to increase the lead — first to five with a kill for 22-17 and then to six with an ace for 24-18. The Patriots won the set on the following play due to a net violation by Harvard —25-18.
A kill by Malias started a 3-0 run for the Patriots in the second set, but the Crimson cut the lead to one at 5-4. Mason responded with an immense 8-0 run and grabbed their first double-digit lead on a Wilson kill for 15-5. The Patriots' lead reached its high point at 19-7 on an ace by Malias. Moments later, Popov made the score 21-10 with a smart tip over Harvard's block, but few could predict what happened next. The Crimson went on a 12-3 run to come within two at 24-22. Coach Fred Chao took his second timeout, which allowed his players to regain their composure and win the set 25-22 on another Wilson kill.
Harvard's impressive run in the second set gave them momentum to get a good start in the third. Although a net violation allowed the Patriots to tie the score at 2, the Crimson won eight of the following 10 points to accumulate a six-point lead — 10-4. The lead reached seven at 18-11 before consecutive Mason points made it 18-13. Although the Patriots came within five again at 21-16, they could not challenge Harvard further, and the Crimson took the set 25-19.
After an even start to the fourth set, two kills by Malias and a block by senior Hunter Stevens between them allowed Mason to pull away by three at 7-4. Harvard went on a 5-1 run to retake the lead at 9-8 and managed to double it at 13-11, which resulted in a Mason timeout. Afterwards, Popov tied the score with an ace for 14-14, which was followed by a block-out point by Wilson that gave his team the lead. The two teams entered the closing stages of the set on even terms after an attack error by the Crimson made it 20-20. Mason took a two-point lead soon after at 23-21 but Harvard came back immediately. Yet, the Patriots managed to grab their first match point on a Wilson kill at 24-23. Although it was neutralized by the Crimson, the Patriots won the set and match 26-24 on the following one.
In the final on Friday night, the Patriots will face the tournament host Penn State, which swept Princeton in the second semi-final. First serve is at 7 p.m. This is the Patriots first EIVA final since 2012.