Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I Dreamed A Dream...

So you've probably seen Susan Boyle somewhere on the internet and her brilliant version of Fantine's haunting "I Dreamed A Dream" from Les Miserables.

On the day when Princeton's all-time winningest coach, Glenn Nelson, prepares for what could be the final match of his brilliant career — and will definitely be the final home match of his career — is it possible to dream the dream that this could be the most magical ending ever?

First of all, some parameters. This dream is that Princeton reaches its first EIVA championship match in 11 years. The one of winning that title — at the expense of reigning NCAA and all-but-1998 EIVA champion Penn State — might be as wild a dream as the one Dorothy had during a bad storm in Kansas.

But is getting there, from the sixth seed, such an impossibility? Can this team take Nelson on one more wild ride?

It starts tonight at 7 p.m. in Dillon Gym. Princeton has to host an extra postseason match because it didn't earn one of the top four seeds in the EIVA playoffs. It's a fair punishment for a team that just didn't get the job done at home throughout the middle of the season. This team — a senior-laden one — knows it.

So we start with Rutgers-Newark, the Hay Division champion after last Friday's win over Harvard (not too many other sports where Princeton misses a Harvard matchup because of Rutgers-Newark). The Scarlet Raiders are a well-coached, scrappy team, but Princeton beat them in four sets earlier this season and went on to lose three of its next four home matches; in other words, the team wasn't exactly playing its best ball.

A Princeton win would send the team to Saint Francis for the EIVA quarterfinal round. The Red Flash has been among that second tier of league teams for a while (Tier 1 is Penn State), but Princeton has matched up very well with the Flash this season. In two matches, Princeton has actually won more overall points than Saint Francis (262-253); both teams won a 3-2 decision on the road. Princeton hasn't won too many road matches, but the Tigers are coming off a big road win at George Mason last weekend and have already won at Saint Francis.

Would they be the favorite? No. Would they be a big underdog? No.

So let's say Princeton pulls off that one. Now the Tigers would get the important first EIVA semifinal match. What makes it important? Here's a hint... the second one involves a certain Blue and White team. The first semifinal would send Princeton against Juniata, which has its best team in years and deservedly earned the second seed. But the last time the Tigers played Juniata, they lost in five sets and were in two that they lost. The only other meeting was the EIVA opener for both teams.

How would either team react with a shot at the championship match on the line? With four seniors and two juniors on the roster, you'd have to at least give Princeton a shot.

Would they be the favorite? No. Would they be a big underdog? No.

Princeton, led by Glenn Nelson, defeated Penn State en route to the 1998 EIVA championship. It's the only time Happy Valley didn't house the league title in men's volleyball.

So could Nelson's final match be one more EIVA title match against Penn State. The road is long and filled with obstacles, but it's manageable. Three big-time efforts could land the Tigers in that magical position, in the championship match against the ultimate Goliath.

Would they be the favorite? No. Would they be a big underdog?

As Fantine sang, "I dreamed a dream in times gone by..."

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