PRINCETON, N.J. -- The final shot by the reigning EIVA Player of the Year, Aaron Russell, found the waiting hands of both Princeton experience and youth. And then it found the floor, setting off a jubilant celebration in a packed Dillon Gym as Princeton ended a 35-match losing streak to the 15-time reigning EIVA champion and 10th-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions, rallying from an early hole for a 3-2 win.
The victory is Princeton's ninth win against a ranked program, though it is its first against a top-10 team. It is also its third win ever against Penn State, and its first since the 1998 EIVA semifinal, when the Tigers knocked off Penn State 3-0 en route to its only league championship.
A kill by Russell in the fifth evened the score at 10-10, but Stearns reclaimed the Princeton lead with his team-best 18th kill of the night. Russell hit the antenna to open a 12-10 lead, and senior tri-captain Pat Schwagler followed with a kill to open a three-point edge.
The two squads traded points to give Princeton three match balls, but they would only need one. Russell's swing was blocked by both Schwagler and freshman middle Junior Oboh, clinching the victory and giving the Tigers their first five-set win in five attempts this season.
"I couldn't be more proud of the guys tonight," head coach Sam Shweisky said. "They continued to battle against a very tough Penn State team, and they showed a ton of heart and resilience in the fifth set. It was an incredible environment tonight, and we appreciated the support of everybody who was part of a great Dillon crowd tonight."
Stearns led Princeton with 18 kills, while junior Cody Kessel had 14 kills, five blocks and two service aces. Schwagler had 12 kills, three blocks and two aces, though four of his kills came during a dominant fifth set. Both Oboh and junior middle Will Siroky had six blocks apiece, while libero Tony Ensbury led the defensive effort with 11 digs.
Freshman Chris Kennedy led the offense with 40 assists, and he added three timely service aces, including one to give Princeton an early lead in the fifth set.