By Joe Arruda
On Tuesday night, the Springfield College men’s volleyball team suffered an uncharacteristic loss to Rivier University. The Pride were swept at home for the first time since their 2014 national championship season.
No. 1 Springfield College (16-2) welcomed Vassar College (8-5) on Friday night. In their last matchup, Springfield defeated Vassar to win the Volleyball Hall of Fame Morgan Classic championship game.
The Pride entered Blake Arena determined not to lose another match. The stands were reasonably filled, and the energy was high. Even before the first serve, there was a noticeable difference in the atmosphere from Tuesday night. The bench was loud and proud, Eli Irizarry Pares was feeling better, and the team played classic Springfield College volleyball.
It was important for the team to bounce back after the tough loss to Rivier. They felt that they had something to prove–not to the fans or the other team–to themselves.
“We knew that Tuesday wasn’t the way we play, the way Springfield College plays, and we knew that we had to prove something,” said junior Libero Johjan Mussa Robles. “We don’t play for the other teams to see us play, we play for ourselves, and we had something to prove within ourselves. We are a better team than Tuesday, and we needed to prove that today.”
In practice not much was changed. They had to learn from their mistakes, but above all, they had to return to the level of play that they had been at.
“Same mentality, just gotta keep going. We’ve got to keep going,” Mussa Robles added.
“We just wanted to learn from Tuesday night, and learn from our mistakes and not let it happen again,” said Head Coach Charlie Sullivan.
In the first set, Brennen Brandow made his presence an immediate factor for the Pride. The freshman star tallied 5 kills in the set. As the stands filled, the rallies became longer, and the intensity rose. Brandow came away with a huge block to put the Pride up 19-17 which triggered an ovation from the crowd, and excitement from the bench.
The nail in the coffin did not come easy for the Pride. Towards the end of the set, long rallies were prevalent. The long intense moments allowed Springfield to gain momentum. They were fun for the fans to watch, and for the players as well. Despite 13 tied scores and 5 lead changes, the Pride were able to come away with a 25-20 set one victory.
The second set began similarly to the first. The score was tight, each team fighting for every point. The Pride again utilized long, acrobatic rallies to gain their momentum. Eli Irizarry Pares reassured fans and teammates that his knee wasn’t bothering him. To cap off a rally, he stepped over a diving Mussa Robles to keep the ball alive, advancing the score to 15-10 in Springfield’s favor.
Brandow once again did his part in giving the Pride the extra push they needed to finish off the set. He sent a powerful spike off the head of Vassar’s Daniel Halberg and out of bounds, giving Springfield a 20-18 lead, and a heap of momentum. The Pride went on to win 5 of the next 6 points, claiming the second set by a score of 25-19.
Springfield used their momentum to jump out to a decent lead early in the third, but the Brewers were not ready to go down. They battled back to tie the score at 7, and everyone in Blake Arena knew it wouldn’t be an easy sweep for the Pride. The final set featured a total of 18 tied scores (including one at match point) and 7 lead changes.
A classic two handed slam from Eli Gabriel Irizarry Pares gave Springfield a 25-24 advantage. Fans were up and down from their seats as Vassar did all they could to prevent a sweep. The Brewers called their final timeout while on the brink of defeat. Eli Gabriel capped off the victory from behind the service line, as the attempt at a Vassar return collided with the intricacies of the Blake Arena ceiling.
Sullivan spoke of the importance of the serve receive. On Tuesday, the Pride seemed unable to get a good touch on the serve, resulting in a broken play from the start. On Friday however, they fixed that and their ball control was on full display.
“Our serve receivers handled the first contact a lot better, and put the ball in a good spot for our setter to run a good offense,” Sullivan said. “That was a good growth for us overall.”
The Pride appeared as they did amidst their 15 game winning streak, settling any issues that led to Tuesday’s loss. Their mojo was back, the fans loved it, and so did the scoreboard. The loss was a learning moment for the Pride, who are a very young team.
“A loss doesn’t mean anything until you correct the error. We have a saying in our gym that a mistake is not a mistake until you correct it,” said Mussa Robles. “Tuesday wasn’t good, but we just came with the same mentality. We knew we had to make changes and we made them.”
Springfield will travel to MIT on Wednesday, and will not return to Blake Arena until the following Wednesday (March 13th) when they will play host to No. 8 SUNY New Paltz at 6:00 p.m..