A powerful Springfield men’s volleyball squad was backed by a section of students wearing white in Blake Arena for a grudge match that revisited the emotions and excitement of last season’s title match.
This time at the Mecca, the No. 1 ranked Pride fought their way through a battle with the No. 5 SUNY New Paltz Hawks that resulted in another victory and their 20th sweep of the season by scores of 28-26, 25-21, 25-14.
Senior Sean Zuvich led the way for Springfield with a match-high 11 kills at a .588 clip and two block assists. He was followed by fellow senior Luis Vega who displayed a very similar stat line with just one kill less than Zuvich. Collectively, the Pride, who lead the nation in hitting percentage, finished the night at a .424 clip.
The opening set between the two top ranked teams proved to be a tight matchup featuring nine ties and six lead changes. To begin the first frame, the Hawks committed an attack error followed by a three-point Pride run, which included an ace, from junior Sergio Figueroa Velez. With the lead down to just one point early, junior Ricardo Padilla Ayala nailed the corner of the court on an assist from senior Luis Garcia Rubio. Just a couple points later, an ace from sophomore Kyle Jasuta put Springfield up three, but New Paltz found their way right back into the contest. At a tied 12-point scoreline, the Hawks would snag the next kill for their first lead of the match. New Paltz junior Anthony Bonilla added another point to the slim lead with an ace, forcing coach Charlie Sullivan to call his first timeout. Out of the break, the two ranked squads traded points until the Hawks gained a three-point lead at 19-16. Padilla Ayala and New Paltz freshman Matthew Grace added a kill each, before Sullivan burned another timeout.
This timeout, however, proved to switch the momentum to Springfield and allowed the Pride to come back and tie the set at 23. A service error from sophomore Mike Neary gave the Hawks a one point advantage, but a powerful strike from the arm of Vega tied it up again, at 24. A pair of service errors from both sides would keep the game even, until Garcia Rubio beat the Hawks blockers to tie the contest at 26. On the next play, Garcia Rubio setup Vega, who flew out of the back row and nailed a kill to the floor, to give the Pride a one point lead. A final New Paltz attack error sealed the deal for a set one Springfield victory.
In set two, the Pride struck first once again on a Hawks attack error. Garcia Rubio strung together a pair of points from behind the service line, the second being an ace on a reception error by New Paltz’s Aaron Carrk to give the Pride a 4-1 lead. Later in the set, with the Springfield control adding up to a six point lead, the Hawks began their 3-0 run and forced Sullivan to call another timeout. Following the halt, New Paltz failed to capitalize on an overpass from Vega and Padilla Ayala would tack on an ace to give a 22-17 Springfield lead. Kills by senior Sean Zuvich and Vega would finish off the Hawks in set two.
With a two set lead, the Pride found smooth sailing in the final frame. With the ball in hand, junior Sergio Figueroa Velez commanded a six-point tear that included two of his three total aces to open up set three.
“[Sergio’s performance was] kind of indicative of what we’re doing here. [He] came back on the service line and acted like a really inspirational leader by being focused and hitting the precise spot,” Sullivan said. “As a result of him being so good, we jumped on his back and got six quick rallies.”
New Paltz would only notch two points in the opening third of the set and showed no signs of catching up to a swiftly moving Pride squad. Toward the tail end of the set, Springfield entered a 7-2 run on the hinges of serving by Padilla Ayala. From there, the Hawks would add two more kills from senior Jake Roessler and Bonilla, but Vega ended the night snagging his 10th kill of the match.
The Pride, who are now 25-1 are on the road for their final two games of the season. They travel to face the New Jersey Institute of Technology on April 12 at 6pm, but are first tested by MIT on Saturday at 2pm. The MIT engineers, who rival Springfield in a variety of sports, have just cracked the top 15 in the Division III AVCA Coaches Poll.