By Joe Arruda
The Springfield men’s volleyball team gathered on Tuesday, April 19 for practice inside Blake Arena. Not only would it be one of the team’s final practices before heading off to Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin for the NCAA Final Four, but they prepared to give a 15-year old boy an experience of a lifetime.
Gifting their Team Impact teammate, Conlan, with a ball signed by the entire team and a backpack, head coach Charlie Sullivan had one last special wish to grant.
“It’s gonna be really crappy that you’re not going to be there for Friday’s semifinals because we’ve had such a good season with you on the bench. You have inspired us all, we have learned so much from you. Sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s smiling more, the players or you when you guys are amongst each other,” Sullivan said, addressing Conlan and the team.
“So we decided that there’s no way you can stay home, that you’re gonna come to the semifinal with us in Wisconsin and be on the bench Friday night.”
Twirling his new ball in his hands, Conlan gave Sullivan a heartfelt high-five. The team, gathered in a circle, erupted into cheers and wide smiles before migrating to center court where they jumped around with Conlan in jubilation for the last time this season as they had done after several home matches this season.
Conlan and the Pride prepare to play against Stevens University in the semifinals, a team they swept with an undermanned roster on Feb. 12. AVCA First Team All-Americans (announced Tuesday) Jarrett Anderson (14) and Brennen Brandow (18) combined for 32 kills as Anderson hit at an astronomical .737 clip.
Second Team All-American Matt Lilley, a setter, led the team to an impressive .485 hitting clip in that match with his 38 assists. Johjan Mussa Robles, a vocal leader for the Pride, earned Second Team All-American honors and compiled 10 digs in the Feb. 12 match against Stevens.
Sullivan earned his fifth Division III National Coach of the Year award after leading Springfield to a 26-1 regular season record. The Pride were top two in the weekly national rankings all season – most of which they were in the top spot.
Anderson received National Player of the Year honors as he sits at No. 6 in the nation in hitting percentage (.450) and leads Division III with .975 aces per set. The junior is in the midst of his first career NCAA Tournament run, and has been electrifying Blake Arena for the past three seasons with his powerful left arm.
On the other side of the championship bracket, Wentworth and reigning champion Carthage will match up following Springfield’s match. Carthage, a strong contender for a repeat on its home floor, enters the weekend with a 22-3 record. The Firebirds lost their first three matches (to NYU, Stevens and Dominican) but won the following 22.
Wentworth enters the weekend with a 30-4 record – its four losses coming to Springfield, Lasell, MIT and UC Santa Cruz. The Pride defeated the Leopards in a tightly contested four set match that featured a 31-29 Springfield win in set three. Anderson finished with a match-high 20 kills at a .486 clip while Brandow added 16 of his own hitting .386. On the defensive side of the net, Anderson tallied five block assists to complement six from Chris Parker.
Should the Pride defeat Stevens again, they would take on the winner of the Carthage-Wentworth match on Saturday at 6 p.m. Springfield’s semifinal match will begin at 6 p.m. Friday.
Photos by Joe Arruda/The Student