By Sam Leventhal
Staff Writer/Photo Editor
Being the top ranked team and expected to perform can be a heavy burden to carry for a team in any sport. For the Springfield College men’s volleyball team, a program who is all too familiar to the limelight, this pressure isn’t even on their radar.
“There is no stress because no matter where we’re ranked, we’re going to play hard every game,” senior Luis Garcia Rubio said. “Our expectations are to compete every day, in practice and in games, at a championship level, hustling every play to try to get the point.”
Flashback to Jan. 2016. The Pride sat atop the preseason poll and opened their season on the west coast with matches that resulted in a two-game split at Hope International. The men’s powerhouse then returned to the east coast and took the competition by storm, flying out to a 7-1 record to begin the regular season.
The start to the 2017 campaign appears to have little variance to that of 2016. With another split series at Hope International, and other notable victories against Rivier University and New York University, the Pride are following a formula that has seen championship appearances since 2012 and victories in 2012, ‘13 and ‘14.
“We always want to play well enough to qualify during the regular season and then play championship level volleyball [in] the NCAA tournament,” head coach Charlie Sullivan said. “The last two years we’ve had some excuses, like injuries, but the bottom line is that we did not play our best, especially mentally.”
Despite past injuries, the Pride have displayed and are continuing to string together performances that Springfield athletic director Craig Poisson says, are nothing short of excellent. The team’s ability to adapt to stressful situations and stay composed in high pressure environments, such as the one faced in the 2014 championship at Juniata College, is something that the Pride have done extremely well.
“Making it again would add to the incredible sustained excellence of the program. And I suppose it would be a duplication of that which occurred in ’12; which is when we won it,” Poisson said. “That’s the best you could pull off. To be in it, to host it and to win it.”
In 2012, the inaugural season of the NCAA Men’s Division III Volleyball Championship, Springfield College’s Blake Arena was the host site and the Pride kept the hardware in the building. Since then, Stevens Institute joined Springfield as the only other team to win a championship on their own court.
“I’d say that men’s volleyball has given us our fair share of, what I like to call, ESPN moments,” Poisson said. “It’s similar to what occurs when you beat the number one team in men’s basketball, which happened this year. The ESPN moments are few and far between, but I feel that men’s volleyball has brought their fair share of them.”
The Pride look to accomplish every team’s goal of snagging a national championship in 2017. A victory like that this season would put them in the headlines once again, but this time as the only men’s division III volleyball program to capture two national titles at their own venue.