Sports

Springfield Men’s Volleyball Off to Hot Start in Defense of National Championship

Mark Loiselle
Staff Writer

Keaton Piper
Springfield’s sophomore setter Keaton Piper is just one of the many returners from last year’s national championship team. (Student File Photo)

For the Springfield College men’s volleyball team, retaining every player but one from last year’s National Championship team is an advantage, but allowing others to join in on the success gives this team the chance to be immensely dynamic.

Heading into the 2013 season, Coach Charlie Sullivan experienced some unfortunate and unexpected news regarding rising outside hitter Angel Perez and setter Keaton Pieper.

Pieper, named to the first team of the 2012 National Tournament, has missed all five games due to a minor back injury.

“We will know more in about a week,” Sullivan promptly stated.

As for Perez, the 2012 ECAC Rookie of the Year will miss a considerable amount of time with a torn ACL he suffered in the summer.

“Over the summer I was playing with the national team,” the second-year outside hitter said.  “At practice, I hit the ball, but landed awkwardly and tore my ACL.”

The long-time coach commented briefly on Perez’s injury by saying, “he’s making good progress.”

Mike Becker, a senior for Sullivan’s club, will look to take over the setting duties for his fellow teammate. The newly-inserted setter has contributed productivity at a superior level. Becker has tallied for a startling total of 146 assists thus far.

“Becker is a great guy in our program,” Sullivan said. “He has been within our system for four years. When he sets the ball, we hit a high number.”

Sullivan’s coaching tactics make him a great teacher, but his knowledge of other players and where the incoming students can reach is much more remarkable.

Like last year’s first-year starters in Perez and Pieper, the 15-year head coach found something special in Luis Vega, a Corozal, Puerto Rico native who has tallied for 22 kills in his 2013 debut.

“I have been really impressed [with Luis],” Sullivan said. “First of all, going to the English institute in the fall and really working hard to achieve a good level of English showed a lot of determination. And to produce while playing at a high level has been really impressive.”

Mike Pelletier, Greg Falcone, and Alistair Matthews’ contribution to the 2013 season is just another day at the office. Consistency is part of the three seniors’ mindsets.

“There is always going to be some growing pains regardless of returning seniors or returning starters, but I think that this year we have been off to a quicker start than previous years,” Pelletier said. “Playing for two or three years together up to this point is really helping us develop early in the season.”

Pelletier, the 2012 MVP of the Division III National Championship, seeks more challenges to progress the succession that has been built into this top-tier outside hitter. The four-year starter resumed his impressive play with an ECAC Division III Men’s Volleyball Co-Player of the Week honor after posting 22 kills, six blocks, 11 digs, and a .600 hitting percentage.

Springfield’s 4-1 start has been striking to say the least. Behind an experienced ball club, Springfield split both Division I matches in Cali.—Cal Baptist University (4-4) and Concordia University (4-3) – but (literally) swept Newark, N.J. defeating Cairn University, Kean University, and Rutgers-Newark.

As it has been evident in the past, Sullivan’s game-by-game approach has relished within the former champions. But there is no possible way to overlook last year’s undefeated home record, and to have urgency as three homes are on the doorstep for the team.

The Pride’s heavily-weighted foe, No. 3 Juniata College (4-0), is the first opponent to visit Blake Arena. Last season, the Eagles gave Springfield one of their five losses on the road.

“Juniata is a great team,” Sullivan added. “They will play hard and it’s always a bloodbath. We are not expecting anything less than a 100 percent effort to win the match.”

The 2013 National Champions will look to resume their 20-consecutive home game string on Friday at 8 p.m. in the Volleyball Hall of Fame Morgan Classic. Be sure to wear your white clothing for the “White Out.”

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