In 2016, the New England Patriots captured their fifth franchise title, all under head coach Bill Belichick. During this time, the media had come out with the saying that Belichick now has “one for the thumb”, referring to a Super Bowl ring to fill every finger of one hand.
Just a few months later, at Springfield College, the Springfield men’s volleyball team found themselves back in the national title game, and defeated SUNY New Paltz, 3-1. This victory was the Pride’s 10th title in program history.
Just like Belichick and the Patriots, every title victory has come under the helm of head coach Charlie Sullivan who has one-upped Belichick and snagged one for each thumb. Maybe it’s not on the same scale, but the principle exists.
Inside of a roaring Blake Arena filled with fans and students alike, New Paltz freshman setter Matt Grace tossed the ball up towards the rafters and began his serve approach. Grace took flight and struck the ball with his arm stretched out and flew it right into the middle of the net. Simultaneously, Springfield players dropped to their knees and students began their storm of James Naismith Court. Following the celebration and post-game press conference, the Pride were now in their offseason.
In the 2018 AVCA preseason national poll, the Pride were dubbed the No.1 team in the country for the third straight season, receiving 20 out of 22 votes.
This season, Springfield returns four starters to their lineup, but most notable to the student body are some of the losses for the Pride.
Setter Luis Garcia Rubio and outside hitter Luis “Ricky” Vega were both drafted onto the professional scene in the Puerto Rico Liga Voleibol Superior Masculino. The setter was taken with the first overall pick by Gigantes Carolina and Vega, who was named 2017’s outside attacker of the year by Off The Block, was taken 11th overall by Changos de Naranjito.
Moving towards the 2018 campaign, Springfield has added freshmen Eli Gabrielle Irizarry Pares (brother of libero Eli Irizarry Pares), Matt Lilley, Chris Parker, Rafa Robert, Thomas Wollweber, Shevin Blades, and Seminole State College transfer Kenny Lawrence.
One of the biggest names to return to the Pride roster is Sean Zuvich. The 6-foot-7 right side from San Pedro, Calif. was forced to miss his sophomore season of play after suffering an injury and will use his final season of NCAA eligibility as a graduate student. Now with a pair of titles under his belt and as the elder of the squad, he will need to look to keep the team’s poise on the court.
As usual, Ricardo Padilla Ayala and his heavy hitting arm should be on every team’s radar. A First Team All-America selection in 2017, Padilla Ayala was the second most targeted player on the floor for the Pride. He was also a huge threat behind the service line a season ago leading his team in aces.
Following a second team All-America selection and a reception of the NCAA Elite 90 Award in his sophomore season, junior Kyle Jasuta racked up the accolades in 2017 and is beginning his season back in the starting lineup for the Pride. A season ago, he appeared in 26 matches for the maroon and white registering 129 kills at a .537 clip in addition to his 59 blocks.
In addition to the awards previously named, Jasuta also earned a CoSIDA Second Team Academic All-America honor and was named to the AVCA All Tournament Team at the National Championship. In 2018, with his on-court experience during a national championship run, Jasuta will be a go-to guy for Sullivan.
After sitting behind First Team All-American setter Luis Garcia Rubio for a pair of seasons, it seems that junior Mike Neary will have the opportunity to fight for his spot in 2018. Neary stands four inches taller than the All-American graduate from 2017 possessing a slight positional advantage that Sullivan hasn’t had in recent years. However, freshman Eli Gabrielle Irizarry Pares is fighting for a starting spot just behind him.
The two setters have split time this year and Pares has posted quality numbers with a season-high 38 assists and a five set victory against the Harvard Crimson. Neary has looked comfortable running the floor in his appearances notching a career-high 33 assists in the contest against St. Joseph’s on Feb 3.
Aside from starting the season with a loss on the west coast to Concordia Irvine, the Pride have only dropped two sets since. In 2018, Springfield is 9-1 and remain at the top of the AVCA Coaches Poll.
The Pride will resume their schedule from Blake Arena on Friday when they take on Stevenson University at 6pm in the first game of the International Volleyball Hall of Fame’s Morgan Classic.