By Joe Arruda
Warming up, the Springfield College men’s volleyball team showed off their new warmup shirts for the first time in Blake Arena on Saturday afternoon. They are gray, sleeveless, and on the back they feature the teams mantra going into 2020.
“TRUST,” in all white letters.
Head Coach Charlie Sullivan has made it a point that in order for them to be successful, they need to trust one another.
They were loose preceding their first home match of the season. When Sage came to the floor, there was no drastic change. Smiles turned into game faces, but the team remained cohesive to the eye, and they played like it too.
New faces all around, the tempo of the Pride offense seemed to have gone up a notch since last year. It was the first time that young stars in Jarrett Anderson and Liam York would take the Blake Arena floor, and the first-years did not disappoint.
In the first match, Anderson, a preseason All-American without playing a collegiate match, racked up 13 kills on a .524 hitting clip. York finished with nine of his own on a hitting percentage of .429.
The abundance of weapons on the new-look Pride offense wiped out any chance that Sage had of getting into a rhythm. By the time the third set came around and the maroon and white was leading 2-0, Sullivan decided to give the players on the bench their shot.
They came in, and all of a sudden it was a game again. They struggled, but the cohesiveness that the team is so focused on never waivered.
“Right now, right now, let’s go!” the lone senior Johjan Mussa Robles yelled out, squatting like he was also on the floor.
“Keep communicating, keep your head up!” Sullivan said, encouraging the young group in a timeout.
That set ended with Springfield on the losing end, 20-25, but it was a win as far as the coaches could tell. The support is always an important thing for them to see in their team, and each player knows that they have a role whether they’re in the game or not.
They wouldn’t turn back.
After winning the fourth set, the Pride had a bit of a break while Sage and Elmira duked it out in the middle of the tri-match. When they came back, the momentum was still with them despite the Eagles having just swept the Gators.
Against Elmira, the Pride maintained a lead over all three sets.
Anderson and York, along with Brennen Brandow and Chris Parker, continued to pound the ball into the hardwood. Anderson again led the team in kills with 10 (23 total on the day), and Brandow, the reigning Rookie of the Year and All-American, put together six of his own in the second match, bringing his total for the day up to 11.
“It’s a little bit more of a complete offense this year. We’re not so predictable so we can go a couple different directions, it’s nice,” Sullivan said.
When it came to the play of the first-year duo, Sullivan couldn’t have been more pleased.
“(Anderson)’s gotta suck it up, he’s gotta get a little better,” he joked sarcastically. “He is a strong player and if we put some fundamentals behind him he’s got a big upside. We’re excited to kind of show him some things where he can be even better than where he is right now.”
“Liam is very responsive to coaching, he makes adjustments and he’s not selfish,” Sullivan added.
Brandow, a former first-year sensation himself, is happy to have the young weapons by his side.
“They’re definitely high power, high intensity. I love playing with them, just more weapons we could have on our court,” he said. “We just focus on what we need to do to run our offense, it’s a fast tempo. Other than that we’ve got really good pin-hitters this year so we’re working on it.”
Anderson followed up his five-ace performance in the first match with eight more in the second.
“(Serving) is super important. I was just able to get in my zone, coach likes us to be aggressive so I was always aggressive with my serves, we were just able to get them out of system and just perform well,” he said.
Leadership is something that, on paper, this team is lacking. With just one senior and some of the bigger name players being underclassmen, it is easy to make that misjudgment.
“Johjan has been great the whole time I’ve been here. He is super supportive, gets our team going. He is kind of like the guy that is always energized, always getting us going so he’s been super helpful this whole time just welcoming us (first-years) to the team,” Anderson said.
While the opponent adjusts to whatever Brandow is doing, so do his teammates. Because he has made a name for himself and recognizing that Mussa Robles is the only senior, the sophomore is expected to take a larger role in the locker room and on the court.
Sullivan will use what he saw in the two games on Saturday as he game plans moving forward.
“They’ve been good evaluations for us, we’ll see what’s happening, where we’re doing things well and things we need to improve on,” he said.
And the team never reminisces. They always have their eyes looking directly in front of them at what is next.
“We just take it game by game, as coach likes to say, we just want to keep being aggressive, keep trusting each other, and ultimately winning games,” Anderson said.
The Pride will look to do just that when they travel to Weston Mass. where they will matchup with Regis College on Tuesday at 6:00 p.m.. They will return to Blake Arena on Friday, Jan. 31 to host Wells.
Photo courtesy of Joe Arruda