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No. 9 Penn State Men’s Volleyball Captures First Conference Victory Over No. 15 Princeton 3-1

No. 9 Penn State men’s volleyball (9-3, 1-0 EIVA) defeated Princeton (6-6, 0-1 EIVA) 3-1 on the road Friday night.  

In its first matchup since sweeping the Tigers in the EIVA Championship last season, Penn State continued its dominance over Princeton tonight as Toby Ezeonu did it all for the Nittany Lions. After being out on rest last week, Ezeonu looked fresh, tallying 11 kills, three aces, and three total blocks while hitting .846.

How It Happened

John Kerr, who left early in the match against Purdue Fort Wayne two weeks ago returned to the starting lineup tonight and started things off with a kill for the Nittany Lions. A Michal Kowal service error gave Princeton its first point of the match, but Owen Rose struck back for Penn State for the early 2-1 lead.

Two errors on Penn State and a block by Ryan Vena and Jameson Vaccaro started a 3-1 run for the Tigers, but Penn State scored twice immediately after with a kill by Ezeonu and a block by Luke Snyder and Ezeonu.

Three Penn State errors and a Kowal kill created another 3-1 run to make it 7-6 Princeton. A Kowal kill, a Snyder service error, and a Kerr kill tied things up for the Nittany Lions at 8-8. A Gavin Leising kill, an ace by the nation’s leader in aces, Ben Harrington, a Kerr kill, and then a Rose service error sparked another 3-1 run for Princeton.

Penn State scored off a block by Ezeonu and Kerr, but the Tigers came roaring back with a kill by Harrington, an ace by Nyherowo Omene, and an Omene kill to make it three-straight scores for Princeton that forced Penn State to call the first timeout of the match.

Princeton scored off a Harrington kill and Kowal error after the break to make it 16-11 Tigers. Omene’s service error ended the Penn State scoring draught, but Princeton wasted no time as Harrington got his team back on the board with a kill. Vaccaro’s bad set then cut the lead to five for the Nittany Lions.

True freshman Carter Dittman subbed in for Ezeonu and his first serve resulted in a kill by Omene off an assist by Henry Wedbush. Princeton extended its lead off a Kerr attack error, but the Nittany Lions then went on a 3-0 run with a Rose kill, and two Princeton errors to force the Tigers to use their first timeout at 19-15 Princeton.

Harrington scored first after the timeout but Penn State scored twice off Wedbush’s service error and a block by Rose and Kerr. The Tigers scored two of their own off a Kowal service error and a Vaccaro kill. Michael Valenzi then cut the lead to four with a kill that was followed by another Ezeonu and Kerr block.

Omene earned a kill for Princeton that was followed by a Kowal kill, and another Omene kill to put the Tigers one score away from the set at 24-20 and forced Mark Pavlik to use another timeout. Out of the short timeout, Omene captured the first set for the Tigers with an ace.

Kowal’s service error quickly started the second set as Valenzi got the point back for Penn State with a kill. After Rose’s service error, Penn State went on a 5-2 run with scores from four Princeton errors and a kill by Kerr to make it 6-4 Penn State. From there, Penn State scored three more times off two more Princeton errors and a Rose kill.

Princeton then scored twice off Penn State service errors to make the score 9-6 Penn State. An Omene error and a Kerr kill extended the Nittany Lions’ lead until Omene tallied a kill for Princeton, its first score not coming from service errors of the set. Valenzi struck back with a kill for Penn State, but two more Nittany Lion errors cut the lead to three.

Ezeonu notched a kill, but Princeton returned with consecutive kills by Vaccaro and Harrington. Valenzi returned the favor with a kill and an ace for Penn State’s first of the match. Penn State widened the lead to 17-12 off of kills by Ezeonu and Kerr as Princeton called a timeout.

After the break, Rose committed an attack error and Leising and Wedbush combined for a block to cut the lead to three. Kowal tallied a kill then Snyder committed a service error, but Penn State got the point back off Kerr’s kill to make it 19-15. The exchange of scores continued for the next four until Princeton racked up consecutive kills by Harrington and Omene to force a Penn State timeout at 21-19.

Princeton continued to chip away at the Penn State lead as it went on a 3-1 run after the break. An Owen Mellon service error put the Nittany Lions within two of the set at 23-21 as Princeton used a timeout. Ezeonu put Penn State within one of the set with an ace, but his next serve resulted in an error and then Rose committed an attack error off Vena’s serve as Pavlick called another timeout at 24-23.

After the timeout, Leising and Wedbush combined for a block to force overtime in the second set. Rose gave Penn State the advantage with a kill, but Harrington tied it up again with a kill. Rose and Kowal then combined for a block then Harrigton committed an attack error to give the Nittany Lions the second set at 27-25.

Kowal started the third set with a kill of Wedbush’s serve then Leising and Omene committed attack errors to make it 3-0 Penn State. Kowal’s service error gave the Tigers their first point of the set as Omene followed with a kill.

Kerr’s kill was canceled out by Omene’s kill then Ezeonu’s kill was in null of Valenzi’s attack error. Penn State scored off Vena’s attack error, but Vena and Omene tallied consecutive kills for the Tigers to tie the set at 6-6. Penn State tallied consecutive scores off Kowal’s kill and Ezeonu’s ace.

Both teams alternated scores until back-to-back kills by Kowal and Rose sparked a 5-1 run for the Nittany Lions where two Princeton errors and a Valenzi kill extended Penn State’s lead to 14-9 as Princeton used its first timeout of the set.

The Tigers came out of the break with two quick scores off an Omene kill and a Valenzi error. Ezeonu earned a kill, but Princeton scored two more off Omene’s kill and Kowal’s attack error. Omene then committed a service error to make it 16-13 Penn State.

Valenzi’s service error put the Tigers within two, but Mellon committed a service error and Ezeonu notched another ace for Penn State. Princeton went on a 3-1 run until Wedbush’s service error ended it. Leising got the score back for Princeton with a kill but it was all for naught as Harrington committed a service error.

The teams alternated the next four scores until Princeton called a timeout as Penn State led 23-20. Valenzi committed a service error out of the break, but Vaccaro did the same for Princeton. Wedbush tallied a kill to put the Tigers within two of overtime, but Vena committed a service error to give Penn State the third set 25-22.

Princeton started the fourth set with a kill by Harrington, and then Omene’s error started the scoring for Penn State. The back-and-forth play resumed until two errors on Omene and an error on Leising made it 6-4 Penn State. The Tigers then tied the set again off an Ezeonu service error and a Vena kill.

Kowal and Harrington exchanged kills, then a block by Rose and Kowal, and Kowal’s error tied the set at 8-8. Penn State then scored three straight with two kills by Kerr and a block by Ezeonu. Rose committed a service error, but Ezeonu came back with a kill to make it a 4-1 run and a 12-9 Penn State lead.

The next six scores were split by both teams as Penn State kept its 15-12 lead. The series of six kills by both squads ended as Penn State scored off a Harrington service error to make it 17-14. The extensive back-and-forth play ended after two Mellon errors resulted in a Princeton timeout at 20-16.

Out of the timeout, the Tigers scored off an Omene kill and ace to make it 20-18 as Penn State called a timeout. Ezeonu notched a kill after the pause and an Omene attack error forced another Princeton timeout as Penn State was three points away from being victorious.

Princeton scored three straight out of this timeout to force Pavlick to use another timeout at 22-21. After this break, Leising committed a service error but Princeton came back with a block by Harrington and Vena. Rose with a clutch kill put Penn State within one, but Vena did the same to put the Tigers within one of overtime.

Rose with another kill ended the match 25-23 for the Nittany Lions.

Takeaways

  • Ever since the two teams first met in 1977, Penn State has owned the matchup with a 66-9 record against Princeton and a 23-5 record on the road.  
  • Penn State’s defense came up big, allowing a .215 hitting percentage and racking up 10 total blocks.
  • Ben Harrington led the country with aces per set coming into the game the Tigers were third in the country in aces per set. Tonight, Harrington was held to just one ace and as a team, the Tigers had four.

What’s Next?

The Nittany Lions will search to sweep the Tigers as they stay in Princeton for their next matchup at 5 p.m. on Saturday, February 17. The match will air on ESPN+.  

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About the Author

Mitch Corcoran

Mitch is a junior broadcast journalism major from Johnstown, PA. He is a big Pittsburgh sports fan and in his free time he likes to listen to music, play video games, and rewatch old football games. He also loves Seinfeld, Star Wars, bucket hats, and Dua Lipa. If you want Justin Herbert propaganda or random sports content, follow him on Twitter/X @MitchCorc18 or email [email protected]

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