In sports, there are values and lessons that are learned that cross the out-of-bounds line and intersect directly with life. These include how to handle the success and failures of life, how to overcome, and how to persevere through tough times.
Jimmy O’Leary knows these lessons all too well. Last week, O’Leary learned his grandmother had passed away. On Saturday night, he continued to persevere, helping the Springfield College men’s volleyball team overcome Kean University 3-1, claiming their second consecutive victory over a ranked opponent.
O’Leary, a Reading, Pa. native, suffered a loss not on a scoreboard, but rather within his family circle. After returning home earlier in the week to say his final goodbyes, O’Leary has taken to the court to help the Pride claim multiple victories over two of the best teams in the country.
On Thursday, the Pride traveled to New Paltz, N.Y. where they dispatched previously unbeaten and No. 2 ranked New Paltz. O’Leary tallied eight kills for the Pride and 14 total points.
On Saturday, the Pride rallied from behind to defeat Kean behind the solid play from O’Leary.
After dropping the first set 28-26, the Pride dominated the rest of the way, taking down Kean 25-11, 25-17 and 25-21.
O’Leary raked up eight kills and 11 total points to go along with an 81 percent serving mark.
“I think he played really dedicated and intense,” said Springfield coach Charlie Sullivan. “He was dead-on, focused and intense in everything he was doing. He probably went through a lot, hearing about his grandmother, hearing the great life she had. It made him zero in a little more.”
The Pride needed O’Leary to be at his best. In the first half, the Pride looked flat as their kill attempts were consistently getting blocked by the Cougars.
The Pride managed to land just 29 percent of their kills while claiming only one team block and converting only 47 percent of their set attempts.
The table quickly turned in the second set, as they used a 5-1 run to start the set as well as effective kills to down the upset-minded Cougars. Late in the set, the Cougars attempted to mount a comeback, only to be denied by O’Leary. After Kean successfully cleared the ball, O’Leary reached back and smashed home a devastating kill.
The script remained the same in the third set, as Springfield once again converted on kill attempts and blocks, snagging six team blocks in the frame. With the set still in contention halfway through, O’Leary turned the tide for Springfield. After Keaton Pieper delivered a perfect set, O’Leary reached back and delivered a ground-shaking kill, handing Springfield much needed momentum to pull away.
The Pride battled tightly in the fourth and final frame before pulling away late, punctuated by a powerful kill from Luis Vega to finish the match.
“I felt like I played pretty well,” said O’Leary. “I always can play better, but I feel like I played up to my potential. Before the game I like to get really focused. I just tried to be aggressive the whole way.”
While O’Leary has dealt with the loss of his grandmother, he’s also had the tough task of filling the void left by four-time All-American Greg Falcone, who graduated a year ago.
“It was always fun playing with Greg,” O’Leary said. “He always had a lot of advice for me as he was my mentor throughout every season he was here.”
Although playing alongside Falcone improved O’Leary on the court, it’s been off the court where O’Leary has shined as well.
“He does a great job applying the knowledge the coaching staff presents him before and during the match,” said Falcone. “You never have to worry about whether or not Jimmy did his ‘homework.’ Come game time, he knows the scouting report as well as anyone and he is prepared to put himself and his teammates in a place to be successful.”
And successful they have been. Up to this point in the season, the Pride boast a 7-5 record, as well as a consistent track record. They have downed a pair of unbeatens as well as boasting a top five ranking of their own, thanks in large part to the production of O’Leary.
And while filling in for Falcone seems daunting, everyone around him knew he was capable of putting the weight of the team on his shoulders.
“Jimmy takes five giant steps forward every year,” Falcone said. “He is a dream teammate. He came in freshman year as a raw athlete who needed a lot of work. His work ethic, positive attitude and eagerness to be coached and improve left everyone believing from his first day in the gym that he would reach the All-American level he is playing at now.”