When William G. Morgan invented mintonette, or volleyball, and played the first exhibition match at Springfield College over 110 years ago, he surely had no idea that his very alma mater would become a volleyball powerhouse one day.
Both the Springfield men’s and women’s teams are accustomed to success. The men’s team has turned itself into a national powerhouse, winning three straight NCAA Championships.
The women’s team is no stranger to winning either, constantly dominating the NEWMAC, and getting its way into the NCAA Tournament. Taking over the women’s team heading into the 2011 season, Moira Long came hungry for victory, and it showed.
Springfield went a remarkable 21-0 to start the year, with their first loss coming at Wellesley. The Pride went 8-1 after their loss, finishing their regular season at 29-2.
“We started the year, unbelievably so, at 21-0,” Long said. “Not sure how that happened, it just kind of all pieced together. In the moment it didn’t feel like we were 21-0.”
They breezed through the NEWMAC Tournament, winning the conference championship over Wellesley, the very team that handed them their first loss of the season.
“We were home for our conference championship, which was pretty neat,” Long explained. “And then we were the number one seed in New England, which brought us to the NCAA Regionals.”
The Pride was set to face off against UMass Boston in the NCAA East Regional Championship. What added to the intensity was that UMass Boston had beaten Springfield in the same round the year before, by a score of 3-2.
“It was a pretty big match for us. There’s not a lot of love between UMass and us.”
Given the importance of the match, Blake Arena was packed, and louder than ever in support of the home team.
“I’m on the sideline trying to scream to my outside hitter,” Long said. “And she can’t even hear me.”
Springfield took the first set, 25-17, and won the second by a narrow margin of 28-26. Up 2-0, it seemed as if the match was Springfield’s to lose until UMass Boston started to crawl back.
“UMass Boston started to come back on us a little bit, and I just remember saying ‘everybody needs to calm down’” Long explained. “The sideline is going crazy and everybody is talking at once.”
Long called a timeout to give her team a chance to breathe, regroup, and avoid a massive collapse. UMass Boston went on to win the third set 25-21, cutting into Springfield’s lead.
“I think there were tense moments were we weren’t executing where we should have been,” Long said.
As the fourth set rolled along, UMass Boston began to push even harder in an attempt to tie up the match with their season on the line. UMass Boston held a 17-14 lead late in the fourth set, and worry set into the Springfield players.
“UMass Boston just started to push in set four,” Long explained. “Our team just got so tight. I think for them it was a reflection of the year before, we just really started to struggle.”
Meaghan Hart was Springfield’s libero in 2010, and struggled making passes in the team’s loss. Come 2011, Hart was moved to defensive specialist, but UMass Boston started to key in on her again.
“It’s the same scenario,” Long explained. “UMass Boston is starting to serve Meaghan Hart, and she’s starting to struggle.”
Long called another timeout, this one just to help the struggling Hart.
“The timeout is literally for Meaghan Hart. I just went to Meaghan and told her to stop thinking about 2010, it’s not 2010, and she’s a different player.”
To end the match, Hart was on the baseline and serving, which was redemption for her in a way.
Springfield dodged the late set troubles and won 25-22 in the fourth set, giving them a 3-1 match win over the same team that knocked them out the previous year.
“The teams jumping on each other, and I was just standing there like ‘Did we just win that? Did that just happen?’” Long said. “But the best moment of that match was Joel Dearing, my mentor, coming down from the stands. It was him, me, my team and my staff in the huddle for the last moment.”
For Moira Long’s first season behind the helms of Springfield’s women’s volleyball team, a redemption win in the NCAA Tournament isn’t a bad way to start a career here, and a lifelong memory.