By Joe Arruda
No. 1 Springfield College men’s volleyball (10-1) collected victories against both Sage University (5-5) and St. Joseph’s College (6-2) on Saturday in Blake Arena. The sweep of Sage came in the form of the Pride’s 40th straight win against division III opponents dating back to 2017. The win over St. Joe’s was also Springfield’s 40th straight victory in Blake Arena dating back to 2016.
A new wave of Pride men’s volleyball players infiltrated Blake Arena for game one as they swept Sage University in three straight sets.
“It was all guys who haven’t started before,” said Pride head coach Charlie Sullivan. “It was good to see them play well because they’ve been working hard in the gym and getting better.”
The lineup for Springfield consisted entirely of underclassmen, with the exception of Senior Eli Irizarry Pares who entered for the final points of the third set. Rafa Robert-Rodriguez, a sophomore, showed off his skills from the outside hitter position as he collected a match high 11 kills on a .625 hitting percentage. Freshman Brian Stewart also had a big match as he added 9 kills.
Thanks to Matt Lilley’s 28 assists, the Pride tallied a .397 hitting percentage in the set, and cruised to a dominant three set victory— their ninth win on the season. A total of ten underclassmen were able to see the court and get experience in the win.
“I think it’s a testament to what we’re doing in practice that they were able to be prepared and kind of overpower Sage a little which was great,” said Sullivan.
Less than an hour later, it was time for St. Joseph’s.
The Golden Eagles entered Blake Arena after also defeating Sage University earlier on Saturday in Dana Gymnasium. Their record stood at 6-1, and they had won five straight.
While the first match for the Pride against Sage appeared to be extremely relaxed with players on both teams flashing smiles from start to finish, the second match was nothing similar. St. Joseph’s came into Blake looking to take down the back-to-back national champions, and snap Springfield’s winning streak.
The first set was all Pride. Kyle Jasuta lead Springfield’s attack with 4 kills in the set on a .800 hitting percentage. Two of his kills secured the 19th and 20th points, and momentum for the Pride. They went on to take the set, 25-17.
The second set was a different story. St. Joe’s used their own noise to their advantage. They were able to get into the heads of the Springfield players despite them expecting the tactic.
“We knew they were going to do that coming in, but definitely for sure it had a little impact on us in the second set,” said freshman outside hitter Brennen Brandow. “When we were down and they were getting some points, they went on a little run that we needed to stop.”
The Golden Eagles were able to obtain a momentum advantage with their voices, which then lead to an advantage on the scoreboard. Blake Arena saw possibly the most competitive set of the season thus far in that second set. Both benches were loud, and the atmosphere was exuberant.
The Pride struggled. Despite posting 22 points in the set, they managed only 10 kills on a -.114 hitting percentage. The set brought out the competitiveness of the Pride, which they then carried into the next set.
In the third, Springfield jumped out to an 8-3 lead and looked like their typical selves. St. Joseph’s style of play did not change whatsoever. Kyle Biggers, a junior for St. Joe’s, was bouncing off of the walls in Blake Arena, leading the Golden Eagles’ Bush League style chirping.
The Pride stood tall, however, and were able to claim the set victory in the third, giving them a 2-1 advantage.
The fourth set was all Brandow. He silenced the St. Joe’s bench as he tallied four points in a row for the Pride, coming via three straight kills and a solo block. He finished the match with a total of 13 kills and 9 digs.
“I’m just feeling great, connecting with the setters, just keeping the energy alive. The second set we were a little down since we lost, but in the fourth set we needed a little spark,” said Brandow. “I just did what my coach said and ignited the spark.”
Eli Gabriel Irizarry Pares directed the Pride attack with an extraordinary 45 assists, leading to four Springfield players with 8 or more kills. Senior Mike Neary also put together a fantastic game as he totaled a match high 15 kills on a .440 hitting percentage, and added 4 service aces.
After a day that showcased the entirety of the Springfield roster, their strength as a program was evident.
“We have a foundation that we’re able to build on now, we’ll see what kind of skyscraper we’ll be able to put on top of it,” said Sullivan. “The foundation is solid.”
“We don’t look at it as if we’re number one. Right now we’re in last and we’ve got to keep pushing,” Brandow added.
Springfield will return to Blake Arena on Tuesday as Johnson and Wales (R.I.) comes looking for revenge after being swept 3-0 by the Pride earlier in the season.