By Joe Arruda
With a sweep of Marymount University on Friday night, No. 1 Springfield College advances to the championship game of the International Volleyball Hall of Fame Morgan Classic, and their record improves to 6-1. Blake Arena plays host to the premier four-team tournament on the east coast for the 28th consecutive year.
The Marymount University Saints did not go down without a fight against the defending back-to-back national champions. The opening match of the Morgan Classic featured six lead changes and 19 total tied scores.
Friday night’s win was not only special for the Pride because they advanced to the championship match. Coach Charlie Sullivan picked Friday’s match to be the one to honor the life of Lindsay Bugbee Crosby (’08) who passed away this past summer.
Lindsay was the definition of a Springfield College athlete. She played both lacrosse and soccer for the Pride and netted the Springfield College Female Multi-Sport Athlete of the Year recognition twice.
Coach Sullivan honored Bugbee Crosby with a maroon armband over the left sleeve of his suit coat. The team honored her through their passion and excellence, on and off the court.
“It was an honor to get the chance to represent her and all she did here, all she stood for, the type of person she was,” Sullivan said. “The behavior she emulated we tried to imitate, and I think that really helped us during the evening too.”
That passion shone through the face of the Pride’s junior libero, Johjan Mussa Robles.
Towards the end of the first set, Marymount had a two-point lead and was letting the Pride hear it. Frustration was prominent on the faces of the Springfield players, and their play was being affected. Robles took this opportunity to showcase his leadership and get the Pride back in the set mentally.
“Communication on the bench picks up the communication on the court, so we’re working on that all the time. Our bench did a phenomenal job,” Sullivan said.
Springfield made it a common trend to get down early in the set, maybe strategically giving Marymount a false sense of hope, and then using their strength and adaptability to come back and win the set.
In the second set, Marymount got out to a 6-2 lead, but strong play from Eli Irizarry Pares and Brennen Brandow helped the Pride to claw back into the set, making it a one-point game. Robles once again used his energy to the team’s advantage as he led the Springfield bench’s communication with the players on the floor.
Freshman Brandow put an end to what looked like would be the Pride’s first set loss in four matches. The outside hitter tallied two kills in the final three points, leading Springfield to a second set victory.
In the third set, the back and forth action did not come to a halt. Superb passing from sophomore setter Eli Gabriel Irizarry Pares led the Pride to 15 kills and a .481 hitting percentage in the final set. A Chris Parker serve that drilled the chest of Marymount libero Kyle Marcolla-Gattasse gave Springfield a commanding 21-17 lead.
Though the Pride didn’t dominate the match from start to finish, Coach Sullivan found this a bright spot in their play.
“We’re happy our guys got better during the match – which was really cool,” Sullivan added. “There were some things they didn’t do well early, but they made adjustments. For a young team that’s called learning, so it’s pretty cool where it will do that.”
Springfield will host Vassar in the tournament championship game on Saturday night at 8:00 p.m. It will be the ninth consecutive Morgan Classic Tournament championship match for the Pride after winning the previous three.
“It’s a fun tournament, a fun weekend, so it’s good to play in the championship – a lot better than the consolation, that would suck,” Sullivan said. “It was great to have Lindsey with us, and Coach Bugbee in our presence, it was great.”
Photo courtesy of Sam Leventhal