Friday, December 2, 2016

Guest TigerBlog - The Soul Of Princeton Volleyball Returns To Provo

TigerBlog was standing beyond the baseline at the start of the women's basketball game against Seton Hall Wednesday night when he saw a familiar face. Actually two familiar faces. One was Peter Farrell's, who retired last year after 39 years as the women's track and field and cross country coach. The other was his wife Shane's.

Peter and Shane just got back from France. Apparently the food there is good, or at least that's what they said. And it seems like the French like their wines too. How was Portugal, Peter asked TB. What was the first thing TB said? Of course. He told Peter how he ziplined from one country to another.

TigerBlog still can't believe he did it. He still can't believe he went out that little door. It actually was one month ago today, as TB thinks about it. Time flies, huh?

Two of TigerBlog's biggest phobias for years and years were fear of heights and Triskaidekaphobia, which is fear of the number 13. He feels like he's gone a long way to conquering both.  

As for the weekend in Princeton Athletics, there are only two home events, both in men's hockey, where the Tigers will host Union tonight and RPI tomorrow night. Princeton comes in having swept Bemidji State, who dropped from 10th in the country to 13th in the country after the Tigers' 3-1 and 4-1 wins in Minnesota.

Also tonight, a little more than 2,000 miles away, it'll be Princeton at BYU in the opening round of the NCAA women's volleyball tournament.

Princeton won the Ivy League championship, going wire-to-wire, and now the Tigers take on the 10th-ranked Cougars as a reward. The match begins at 9 Eastern time (7 local) and can be seen on ESPN3.

Princeton is in the NCAA tournament for the sixth time overall and first since 2007. The Tigers have the Ivy League Player of the Year (Cara Mattaliano), Rookie of the Year (Maggie O'Connell) and Coach of the Year (Sabrina King). BYU, the West Coast Conference champ, is 27-3.

TigerBlog's colleague Craig Sachson is with the Tigers in Utah. He's been with Princeton volleyball for a long time, and it's enabled him to get to know the head coach better than most. 

Craig reports on her in today's guest TB:

The The Soul of Princeton Volleyball is back in Provo.

Sabrina King came here in 1999 as the Ivy League Player of the Year, the driving force for a Tiger team that won its second Ivy title in three years. She would make the NCAAs her senior year as well, then return to the program to help them to two more tournaments.

She returns now as the two-time Ivy League Coach of the Year, a woman who has relentlessly pushed her beloved program back to the top of the league, where it typically stood during her playing days.

Counting tonight’s match, Princeton has made the NCAA women’s volleyball tournament six times. King will have been a member of five of those teams, over three different decades.

She may be as recognizable a part of her team as anybody at Princeton — one of the program’s all-time best players, a veteran assistant and a two-time Coach of the Year — but it’s the way she arrived at this point that tells the story of Sabrina King.

Back in the days of media guides — in that crazy world before the internet — legendary Princeton head coach Glenn Nelson said his star outside hitter could have played anywhere in the country if she was six inches taller. There isn’t a player on the current team shorter than King, and there also isn’t a player within 250 kills of her career total, including two-time Ivy League Player of the Year Cara Mattaliano, who just finished one of the great single-season performances in program history.

King was smart, driven and relentless as a player (third in career kills, third in career digs, fifth in career aces). She loved the team enough that she couldn’t stay away for more than a couple years, so King became Nelson’s full-time assistant for seven years.

King handled all the recruiting at that point, which ultimately resulted in Princeton’s 2007 Ivy title team, the first in league history to go undefeated in Ivy play. She stepped away when Nelson retired; before she left, though, she helped recruit a men’s class — yes, a men’s class — that pushed the team to its first EIVA championship appearance in 12 years.

Once again, the separation was brief. King and Tiger Volleyball belong together; they bring out the best in each other.

For the first five years of her head coaching tenure, King's assistant coach was Sam Shweisky, whose passion for the sport is unquestioned. Still, he is the men’s head coach as well, and that was his focus once the women’s season ended.

Thus, guess who handled every aspect of the program — including the rigors of the full recruiting calendar?

Thanks to the generous contributions from the Friends of Princeton Volleyball, King was able to hire a full-time assistant coach over the winter in Tyler Hagstrom, and a dedicated volunteer coach in Desma Colburn has aided her over the last two seasons.

Make no mistake, though. This roster — especially a freshman class that started three players on this 2016 title team and sent each to the All-Ivy League squad — belongs to King. If she took a moment to bask in the glory, or to seek a little praise, she would be well within her rights.

Don’t hold your breath, though.

Sabrina King celebrates the successes of her peers without complaining about advantages that she didn’t have. She appreciates the assistance anybody provides, whether it should be expected or not. She is a fiery competitor, a proven leader and as good a person as you’ll find.

She’ll walk back on to the court in Provo tonight, 17 years later, a champion again.

An underdog for sure, but so what?

Been there, overcome that.

And she’s done it with the type of class and dignity that should make Princeton proud of one of its own.

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