By VICTORIA MAJCHRZAK
Tonight the men’s volleyball team (11-8 overall, 9-4 EIVA) will faceoff against Juniata in Dillon Gym at 7 p.m. While the Eagles belong to the Continental Volleyball Conference, and the outcome of the match will have no bearing on Princeton’s position in the volatile EIVA, it is not a match to be missed. Of the last seven times that the Tigers have played Juniata, five of those matches have turned into five set thrillers.
Though Princeton is nearing the end of its regular season, it is the opening pair of sets in games played against Juniata that has historically determined if the two will play a full game. In Princeton’s performance in its last seven matches against the Eagles, the Tigers have split their first two sets three times and have lost both twice. In each of these five matches, Princeton and Juniata have gone to five sets. On the flip side, in the two matches that Princeton won both of its opening sets against the Eagles, the Tigers won both times in a resounding 3-0.
All eyes will be on sophomore outside hitter Cody Kessel in tonight’s opening two rounds. The reigning EIVA Newcomer of the Year, recently returned to play after an injury to his right hand, had a career-best 31 kills in last year’s matchup against the Eagles. Kessel was particularly instrumental in digging the Tigers out of an early two set deficit for the comeback win, which, as expected, went to five.
Juniata (22-10, 6-2 CVC) is just the second non-conference opponent without a national ranking that Princeton will play this season. The last was NYU, against which Princeton won on the road in 3-1 in February. Despite the lack of potential impact on standings in the conference, the Tigers should look at the Juniata game as an indicator of how they will fare against longtime rival George Mason on April 20. Princeton opened and will close its conference play this season by playing the Patriots (14-11, 10-3). In their last contest in early February in Fairfax, VA, the Tigers lost 1-3 in a match where they found themselves down early in the first two sets and were not able to dig themselves out. George Mason now sits at second in the conference, just above Princeton.
If Princeton drops its first two sets against the Eagles, it is unlikely that the Tigers will be able to make a comeback against George Mason in two weeks should there be a repeat of the opening two rounds from their Feb. 8 match. Tonight is all about practice– a lesson for Princeton that getting ahead early means everything.