By Joe Arruda
The No. 1 Springfield College men’s volleyball team (7-1) hosted Vassar College (4-2) in the final match of the International Volleyball Hall of Fame Morgan Classic on Saturday night. Springfield defeated Vassar in four sets, leading them to their fourth consecutive Morgan Classic championship victory.
Students and families filled the stands of Blake Arena for the first set of the tournament championship match. After a dominating 25-10 Pride win in the first set, no one expected what was going to come next.
That first set result was Springfield’s 17th straight set victory, and it looked as if Vassar would not be able to muster up a fight. However, the second set was one for the ages. Back and forth was the story of the set as it featured nine lead changes and 21 tied scores. The fans in Blake Arena were loving each and every second of it. Despite Eli Gabriel Irizarry Pares’ five kills in the set, a 3-0 run for Vassar came at the perfect time for them to come out on top.
Saturday’s matchup comes in the form of a rematch of the 2018 National Championship Semifinals in which Springfield shut down Vassar in three straight sets. These two teams are familiar with each other, and Vassar definitely remembers the loss that the Pride handed to them last April.
“We knew we had a really good opponent on the other side of the net tonight. Vassar does some really nice things together, they play really hard as a team, and we got what we expected,” said Springfield head coach Charlie Sullivan.
In the third set the Pride returned to their usual domination, defeating Vassar 25-12. Johjan Mussa Robles continued to express his energy on the bench, and it proved to be helpful for the players on the court. The Pride tallied a remarkable 17 kills in the set, to go along with a .762 hitting percentage.
Still though, Vassar would not go down without a fight. The Brewers responded similarly in the fourth as they did in the second after being picked apart by the Springfield attack.
From the beginning of the final set, all in attendance at Blake Arena knew to be expecting a close game. Thanks to exceptional communication on the court from Springfield, they were able to maintain a small, two to three point lead for the majority of the set. Eventually it would be Vassar’s own errors at fault for the final points of the set.
Eli Irizarry Pares, a senior all-american, was named the tournament MVP after posting 22 kills and 21 digs in the two games for Springfield. Irizarry Pares is seeing his hard work pay off after switching positions from libero to outside hitter.
“I told coach at the beginning of the year whatever he needs me to play I’ll be there, I’ll step up, I’ll get ready for it for the team, whatever they need me to do,” said Irizarry Pares. “So far it’s paying off.”
Senior Mike Neary, another returning player playing a new position, was named to the 2019 Morgan Classic All-Tournament Team after he produced 12 kills on a .914 hitting percentage in both games for the Pride. Neary also took home the Morgan Classic spike contest.
Eli Gabriel Irizarry Pares, setter and brother of the tournament MVP, also garnered all-tournament team honors. Eli Gabriel tallied a phenomenal 60 assists which led the team to a combined .377 hitting percentage. He also added 8 kills and 2 service aces to bolster the win against Vassar.
“It all started with the serve receive. Johjan (Mussa Robles), Brennen (Brandow), myself, we stayed steady on those so we were able to get a good pass to the setter, and he was able to do anything with our passes,” Eli Irizarry Pares added. “It’s always good to get good passes in there for our setter to do whatever he wants to do, or needs to do, to run our offense.”
Yes, the Pride won the Morgan Classic championship but no, they are not done yet.
“It’s a nice perk to show our progress and what we’re doing differently from the beginning of the season,” Sullivan said of the championship. “We’re just getting better.”
Springfield’s next game will be on Tuesday on the road against Wentworth. The Pride will return to Blake Arena next weekend as they will host Sage and St. Joseph’s (L.I.) on Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. respectively.
Photo courtesy of Joe Arruda