Courtesy of Teodor Handarov
PRINCETON, NJ – The George Mason men's volleyball team fell behind after the first set, but showed great determination and team spirit to complete a 3-1 (19-25, 34-32, 25-19, 27-25) comeback against #14 Princeton University on Friday evening and thus register its first EIVA victory of the season.
Mason's redshirt junior Paco Velez finished with a game-high 21 kills, while sophomore Radoslav Popov also registered double-digit kills, finishing with 12 on the night. The two also led the team's defensive efforts, finishing with seven and five digs, respectively. Freshman setter Brian Negron finished with 34 assists and four kills, while also contributing five digs. Three Princeton players finished the match with double-digit kills: Junior Oboh and Cody Kessel had 15 each, while Devin Stearns added 10. Oboh also led his team with six digs.
The Tigers (6-6, 3-1 EIVA) started the match with a 5-1 run and soon after had a five-point lead at 10-5. A run by Mason on Velez's serving sequence cut the lead to 11-9 and forced a Princeton timeout, but the Patriots (4-8, 1-2 EIVA) could not pull even or take the lead for the rest of the set, which the Tigers comfortably won 25-19.
The second set was anything but one-sided and from the very beginning neither team could pull away. In a set that featured 25 tied scores and eight lead changes, the highest lead for either team was two points and only on two occasions – at 14-12 and 21-19, both in Mason's favor and both forcing the Tigers' head coach to call a timeout. The end of the set was an absolute thriller and called for iron nerves on part of the players, coaches, and fans alike. After four missed set points each and the teams still locked at 32, Mason took its twelfth lead in the set and moments later closed it at 34-32 in their favor on an attack error by the Tigers.
Mason was the first team to lead by two in the third set when a block by redshirt sophomore Jack Wilson gave the Patriots an 8-6 lead, but the Tigers quickly came back on level terms after winning the next two points. Two consecutive aces by Velez a little later gave Mason a 12-9 lead and started turning the momentum toward the Patriots' side of the net. The lead grew to four when a kill through the middle by Negron made the score 16-12 Mason. With the help of the following timeout, however, Princeton went on a run that saw the Tigers come within one point at 17-16, but the Patriots never gave up their lead. In fact, solid defense and effective attacking efforts in the closing stages of the set helped the Patriots add to their lead and ultimately win the set 25-19 on a serve ace by Wilson.
With Mason trying to win its first conference match of the season while Princeton trying to hold on to their unbeaten EIVA record, both teams came out for the fourth set extremely motivated and made it another nail-biter. Several Mason aces and several Princeton service errors in the beginning of the set were not enough for coach Fred Chao's players to build momentum and it was actually the Tigers who made the first run in the set. After falling behind 10-9 on one of these service errors, Princeton went on to win three consecutive points and forced a Mason timeout at 12-10. Attack errors on the Tigers' part, however, first brought Mason back on level terms at 13 and then gave the Patriots a 15-14 lead. The teams continued to go after every point as if it is the last and entered the closing stages even at 22. Mason got the first opportunity to close the set when a kill by Popov put the Patriots ahead 24-23, but the momentum quickly shifted moments later when two consecutive points gave the Tigers a 25-24 lead. A kill by Popov on the following play kept the Patriots' hopes to close the match alive, and they did so at 27-25 after two well-built and well-timed blocks.
In the second match of their EIVA double-header weekend, Mason will face NJIT on Saturday evening before opening a nine-game home stand. The first serve is at 6 p.m.