By Joe Arruda
After the men’s basketball team defeated Babson in overtime, the energy in Blake Arena left with them. There was seemingly none left for the No. 1 men’s volleyball team’s match against No. 3 New York University.
But, when Stiven Topalli was able to smash back to back aces in the third set, there seemed to be at least a little energy left. Fans in the Blake Arena wooden stands remained in their seats, invested in the game. Some shouted positive phrases to the team in maroon and white, and others acted as fourth or fifth coaches.
Brennen Brandow extended the Pride lead in the third set with a one-handed block that moved the score differential to six points. But, a classic men’s volleyball five-set comeback was not on the docket for Saturday evening as the Violets came back in the third set to complete the sweep.
“It was a lot of working on our mindset. The one thing that I’ve always said playing against Springfield–playing against Charlie (Sullivan)–the system that he has, the tradition, the culture that he has with his team, is of playing at a high level no matter what and always being in the game no matter what,” NYU head coach Jose Pina said.
“With my guys it is more about trying to get them into the mindset where they believe in their talent but by the same token also, when they get into difficult situations as we did in game one and game three, they can make the comeback.”
Typically, the energy from the Springfield bench easily overpowers the visitor, but the Violets were prepared.
“The preparation was mostly mental. It was just having them in the most stressful situations in practice,” Pina said. “Loud music, loud sounds in the gym, I know we have a talented team, and that Springfield is an extremely talented team, it is just a question of my team believing that they can play a really good team like Springfield.”
In their practices leading up to the Springfield match, Pina put his team in situations that he expected them to see in Blake Arena after coaching against Sullivan for about 22 years. The NYU bench was rambunctious since the completion of the very first set, where they held on to defeat the Pride after eight tied scores, 25-23.
Pina said,“It has been a long time since we have won against Springfield and it was just a matter of these guys–more than believing–actually being able to make comebacks like they made. A lot of teams come into Springfield and the moment Springfield puts pressure on them, they break down. This has a lot to do with the culture and the teams that Charlie (Sullivan) has put together.”
“You don’t want to play Charlie 2 or 3 times because he gets you,” he continued.
Despite the loss, Brennen Brandow, Chris Parker, and Jarrett Anderson were all able to muster 11 kills. Parker led the pack with a .714 hitting percentage. Junior Matt Lilley had a series of plays where he put his body on the line, one time diving over the media table, and he was able to direct the offense with 40 assists.
The NYU squad exploded in celebration after the last kill fell just over the net onto the hardwood, and the energy is sure to follow them on the bus ride back to New York City, N.Y..
“I’m going to rent a car because I don’t want to be with those animals,” Pina joked.
The Pride did not go winless on Saturday, however, as they defeated SUNY Potsdam in three sets earlier in the afternoon. It was a match that allowed the players who don’t get as much playing time to get a shot, and they did not disappoint.
Sophomore Brian Stewart led the squad with 10 kills while classmate Braden Tam added nine. Setter Jeremy DeRoche directed the offense to a .421 hitting percentage with his 26 assists. DeRoche also made his mark from behind the service line where he produced a match-high five aces.
Springfield’s record moves to 13-2 as they look ahead to next weekend where they will host Arcadia and Wentworth on Friday and Saturday at 6:00 p.m., respectively.
Photo courtesy of Joe Arruda