Coming into the tournament, both SUNY New Paltz and Vassar College were both expected to perform to extremely high standards. Vassar finished the regular season at the No. 2 spot in the AVCA poll, while SUNY New Paltz is coming back to the tournament after taking home the trophy against Springfield just a year ago.
The Hawks entered the night having beat Kean University and carried that momentum early on. The two teams were set to battle from the first whistle having seen each other twice already this season, but unfortunately for Vassar, New Paltz senior Jake Roessler had the game of his career. Roessler finished the game with a total 26 kills at a .667 clip. Those 26 kills marked a new individual game high this year in a three-set match.
“This is, kind of, the first time in mine and Steve’s career where we’ve been the underdog,” Roessler said. “Coming into this game being the six seed and going against the three, I think that it brought a lot of energy and helped us play loose and have fun.”
Late in the first set, Roessler and fellow senior Steven Woessner tag teamed for a block putting the score line at 23-17 and forcing Vassar into their second timeout of the set. Woessner would then come out of the timeout and strike a kill past the Vassar defense giving the Hawks set point. Setter Matt Grace next found Roessler to finish off the set with a score 25-19.
Vassar would snag the first point of set two on a miscued set from the Hawks but after that point would not be able to regain control. New Paltz separated their lead to as much as four before a Vassar timeout following a Roesslers 12th kill of the match. Roessler would continue to have a day snagging another five kills before the Hawks took a 2-0 lead, winning the second set 25-15.
Roessler opened up set three still on fire, snagging the first kill of the set. He would continue to have a day reaching his 26th kill in the set, propelling the Hawks to another semifinals berth.
Grace flourished in the match handing out 14 assists in sets one and three and another 12 in set two to complement the outstanding performance from Roessler.
“[Grace is] a good setter,” Vassar senior Matthew Knigge stated. “That’s what you train for as a middle though, you just try and be quick, sometimes you try and guess but he did a good job of moving it around. Going back to our serving and their passing, they passed well.”
The Hawks will face the winner of Wentworth Institute of Technology and Juniata College on Saturday. Coming off of last year’s performance and the show that the Hawks put on tonight, it seems to be that momentum is the wave they will try to ride through the semifinals.
“We love to remember last year’s team, but the truth of the matter is that this is a brand new team and we can’t ride that wave anymore,” Woessner said.