PRINCETON, N.J. – As a first-time host of the EIVA Championship tournament, Princeton team felt the need to put on a volleyball demonstration for its near-full Dillon Gym.
Paced by Kendall Ratter’s 11 kills and four aces, the regular-season champion Tigers swept past Saint Francis 25-23, 25-21, 25-19 Thursday, April 18. The win sends Princeton to the conference title match for a second consecutive year.
“I’m really pleased with the guys’ resilience,” coach Sam Shweisky said. “I thought we started off a little shaky. I thought Saint Francis came out, really, on fire. I thought we responded well in that first set and battled back.”
The Tigers (16-12) will look for the program’s second EIVA title and first since 1998 at 7 p.m. Saturday at Dillon Gym when it meets Penn State.
Ratter not only led everyone in kills, he did it while hitting .500.
“Over the past two years, we’ve seen him at his absolute best, and other times when he’s struggling,” said hitter Michael Fisher, who led the Red Flash 10 kills. “We know he likes to pass from ‘6’ in some rotations and then go hit outside. I’ve talked to him about it, he says he’s real comfortable with it. Tonight he was really aggressive all the way around.”
Parker Dixon matched that efficiency with his seven kills on an error-free 14 swings, adding three blocks, and 2019 Uvaldo Acosta EIVA Player of the Year George Huhmann had eight kills, three aces and three blocks. Joe Kelly gave out 27 assists as the offense hit .369.
Saint Francis won the first point of the match and never trailed, holding an 18-11 lead after a Joshua Blair ace. The margin was again seven, at 20-13, after Hayden Herc and Evan Feltz teamed to block Huhmann, and the Red Flash seemed poised to take the opening frame.
But Princeton rallied, with a kill and ace from Ratter, and a kill and two aces from Huhmann, and the margin was down to two points. The Red Flash stayed in the lead and had the margin at 23-20, but they never scored again in the set, and back-to-back blocks set up match point and a Saint Francis hitting error.
“Coming out flat a little bit has been kind of typical for our team throughout the year,” Ratter said, later adding, “As soon as we got it together halfway through that game, I think we played our game all the way through to the end.”
The Red Flash know they let that set slip away – and their chances at taking the match.
“That really helped their confidence go up,” coach Mike Rumbaugh said. “I thought that first set they were really clutch. I thought if we could have taken that first set, it could have been a different result in the match. That gave them a big boost of confidence.”
“Rummy said before the game, it’s going to be a game of runs,” Fisher said. “They just kind of had a better one towards the end, pulled it out.”
The win sets up a rematch with Penn State, which Princeton beat in Dillon Gym just a week ago. However, the Nittany Lions had a different lineup, and the Tigers saw some new challenges with Penn State’s performance in the first semifinal.
“They’re going to be putting a very different team on the floor,” Shweisky said. “They’ve ben adapting and evolving and improving. I saw the match tonight. Brett Wildman – he’s an incredible, rising star.”
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“We kind of had the sense they were going to up their service pressure, and they certainly did. (We were) not taken off guard, just, ‘Wow, we’re going to have to figure out a way to handle this service pressure.”
“We’re all ready to go, kind of getting amped up. But I that that just built the anticipation and we kind of came out ready to go.”
“The ‘X’ factor was going to be whether we could contain Ratter or not. Ratter went off on us, and I think that was the difference in the match.”
“I felt like we served a little better in set one overall, just more aggressively, more balls in probably. So once they came back, that kind of hurt our confidence a little bit going forward.”