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(Photo: GoMason.com)

On Friday, the George Mason men’s volleyball team will play their first match on their home court since winning the 2016 EIVA Championship and making the NCAA tournament.

Both accomplished for the first time since 1988. None of the current players were even born.

The banner raising will take place prior to the team’s match against No. 9 Loyola on Saturday, their second game on the weekend. The night before, the team will host King University for their first home match of 2017.

In the NCAA tournament last season, George Mason lost to the eventual champion Ohio State 3-1 as the sixth and final seed.

Earlier this year, George Mason (3-1, 1-0 EIVA) was unable to get their revenge and lost to the Buckeyes by the set score of 3-0. It remains their only loss on the season so far.

Returning all but two regular players from 2016, including three All-EIVA honorees: Johnny Gomez, Christian Malias, and Radoslav Popov, George Mason will have one of the most experienced rosters in the conference. Their rotation has the 2016 team’s two leading attackers (Jack Wilson and Malias), their setter (Brian Negron), libero (Gomez) and one of the best all-around players in the nation (Popov).

With the experience, and a loaded freshman class, the Patriots are expected to repeat as conference champions and make another return to the NCAA tournament.

So far this season, Mason has swept through the games they were expected to win. Three victories over Belmont Abbey, Limestone, and Charleston (W.V.) have given the team early tune-ups to work in newer and younger players into the rotation.

Still though it has been redshirt senior, Wilson leading the way with 40 kills in four games (3.33 per set). Currently Wilson is 10th on Mason’s all-time kills list and has the potential to get as high as sixth at the end of the season. Popov follows with 2.67 kills per set and redshirt sophomore, Langston Payne averages 1.82 with a .486 hitting percentage.

The one category the Patriots have dominated this season has historically been their worst: net blocking. On the year, the Green and Gold have out-blocked opponents 36-14. Once again it is the front line of Payne (13) and Wilson (12) who lead the way.

Of all freshman, outside hitter Sam Greenslade (brother of former Mason women’s volleyball star Jessie Greenslade) has seen the most time on the court. In seven sets he is second on the team in digs with 11, trailing only sophomore Seth Blevins (24).

Important to note that the statistics may be slightly inflated to the competition the Patriots have played.

Dealing with a knee injury, Malias may miss a good amount a time for the Patriots. Following a breakout season in 2016, it is not expected to see him play in the first half of the season. Malias has been a huge loss in the team’s rotation offensively and defensively and just makes the team all around better. It is unclear whether or not the outside hitter will red-shirt his senior season.

He is one of five seniors on the roster that are scheduled to graduate from the program. Malias is joined by Wilson, Popov, Gomez, and Graham Gresham. It will be one of the best graduating classes in the team’s history.

Both matches this weekend, vs. King on Friday and vs. Loyola on Saturday, will start at 7:00 at the RAC. These games, and all other Mason home games, can be seen on-campus Mason Cable Network, channel 8.1 and online via the GoMason Digital Network. Pregame coverage begins at 6:45.