As the Pride gear up for their 2014-15 season, however, both players and Head Coach Charlie Sullivan are quick to remind everyone that this is a new team and a new year.
“Everyone’s going to be talking about our championships,” Sullivan said, “and we have to realize that that’s done and over. That has nothing to do with this year. We might come out ranked number one in the preseason poll, but that has nothing to do with this team at all.”
This year’s team will have some big shoes to fill after graduating middle blocker and Player of the Year and libero Nick Ferry, both of whom were All-Americans, last year. The new roster, however, includes plenty of talent that comes from both returners and seven first-year players from all over the country, as well as international students from Puerto Rico and England.
According to Sullivan, this is the first year that Springfield College is giving out merit-based to international students. While this helped with recruiting this year and will help with future recruiting, Sullivan said, the team is still focused on preparing for the upcoming season.
“Our ‘team’ never changes,” said senior setter Keaton Pieper, who is beginning his fourth year on the team. “It is made up of all the former coaches and players who came before us. The personnel on this team changes but the team dynamic doesn’t.”
Senior middle blocker Jason Mascoe, said that this year has given him the chance to take on more of a leadership role. As important as he said it is to keep improving individually as a player, he also stresses responsibility and selflessness to his new teammates.
“If there’s ever been a team where you realize how much you have to be on the same page as everyone else, it’s volleyball,” Mascoe said. “You can have an off day, but your off day would affect everyone else. Something I want is for [new players] to be open to what we have to teach them.”
Sullivan said that while there are adjustments to be made all around for both the players and the coaches due to slight cultural differences and playing style, he and the rest of the coaching staff are giving players principles to work toward.
Keeping the tradition of hard work and continuing to progress as a team, Mascoe said, has been part of the team’s success over the years.
“A ring or a championship, that’s a product,” Mascoe said. “If you don’t have the right process, you don’t have the product you want. That’s all we really focus on right now.”
The Pride will face more competition this year as they compete for the independent bid, Sullivan said, due to the splitting of the Midwest Conference. The split in the conference leaves only one automatic qualifier to the NCAA tournament for two groups of teams.
The eight teams without the bid, including Santa Cruz and Carthage, must wait two years until they are recognized as a new conference. In the meantime, they will play as independent schools, vying for the same spot in the national tournament that Springfield competes for.
Another challenge for the Pride will be Rivier, one of Springfield’s toughest opponents.
“There will be a lot more competition for the independent bid than there has been in years past,” Sullivan said, “coupled with the fact that most people probably want the chance to beat Springfield College.”
As much as the players focus on their individual practices, it’s also difficult not to think about all that past success.
“I’ve had three very successful and rewarding years with this program,” said Pieper, who is rehabbing from back surgery this summer, “and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t looking for another successful year. But one of my biggest goals is to remind myself every day of how lucky I am to have been given the opportunity to play for this team and to enjoy it as much as I can.”
Mascoe said that although he put away last year’s championship ring after receiving it during homecoming weekend in order to focus on this season, he still wants to push himself and his teammates to continue to grow.
“Every year, someone always says, ‘Are you gonna win again? Are you gonna win again?’” Mascoe said. “Funny thing is, we never think about that. We never think about winning another championship. It’s mostly about getting our team ready to play at a championship level. If we’re blessed to get to that stage, we’re not shocked. It’s not a surprise—we know what we need to do.”