By Joe Arruda
Springfield College played host to another men’s volleyball doubleheader on Saturday as the No. 1 Pride played host to Elms College (11-3) and Elmira College (6-7). Springfield swept both games yet again, improving their record to 12-1.
As the Pride starters were announced prior to their first game, the last name “Irizarry Pares” was not mentioned. This proved to be an issue for Springfield in the first set.
With both brothers donning their maroon warm up shirts over their jersey, the Pride struggled. Elms took advantage of the new look lineup and dominated to start the match. Several miscommunicated plays plagued the Pride, and the Elms fans controlled the noise in Blake Arena.
Kyle Jasuta and freshman Brennen Brandow did all that they could for the Pride in the first set as they tallied 4 kills each. This would not be enough for Springfield as they were defeated 25-19. While the Blazers bench and their relatively large fan section on the left side of the bleachers were able to maintain an energy level, Johjan Mussa Robles encouraged the Pride bench to get into the game.
Despite being on the court, diving after balls that were spiked hard in all directions around him, Mussa Robles still managed to use his voice to keep the Pride in the set. As he earlier mentioned, the energy from the bench transfers to the players on the court, but that was not the case to start out the match.
“Their hitters just did whatever they wanted to do. We didn’t put enough pressure on their attack with our blocking D, we needed to gang up on them some more,” Coach Charlie Sullivan said.
This all changed as Pride fans welcomed Eli and Eli Gabriel Irizarry Pares back to the floor as they sought vengeance in the second set. That is what they got. Springfield took the second and third set back to back 25-20 while Jasuta and Brandow continued to smash the ball to any open space they could find on the floor.
Coming into the fourth set, Elms continued to pressure the back-to-back national champions.
The Blazers came into the set looking to push it to a fifth. They maintained a slim lead of 2-3 points for the majority of the set and looked as if they would get their wish. The spark for the Pride came in the form of sophomore setter Eli Gabriel Irizarry Pares. From behind the service line, he led Springfield’s attack to 4 consecutive points, and a 21-19 lead.
Brandow secured the victory for the Pride with 2 kills in the final 3 points of the match.
“They’re a good team, we had to make some adjustments, and they put a lot of pressure on us. Our guys were able to buckle down and play some good rallies,” said Sullivan.
Brandow, a freshman, tallied a career high 19 kills in the match at a .412 hitting percentage. Jasuta finished with 11 kills, and after entering the match in the second set Eli Irizarry Pares was able to muster 10 kills himself.
“It’s just symbolic of his growth, he’s getting better and better,” Sullivan said of Brandow. “It was the first time he was ever consistently good over a long period of time so it was good to see.”
Now, enter Elmira. After just getting swept by Elms College in three straight sets, the Soaring Eagles looked to stick with the No. 1 Pride in their second game of the day. While Elmira was bested by Elms, the Springfield team took to Cheney dining hall to refuel.
Cheney must have done its job, as the Pride were filled to the brim with energy for their second game. They came out boasting dance moves and interacting with their fans in the stands, ready for the Eagles.
In the first set, Springfield kept the Eagles close but hit the accelerator with stellar play from both Irizarry Pares brothers. Chants of “Do you have confidence? Because we got it!” came from the Soaring Eagles bench. Despite their confidence, the Pride were able to use the energy in Blake Arena to their advantage in a 25-18 set victory.
The Pride was not playing around after a slow start to the first set. They quickly jumped out to an early 18-5 lead. As Sullivan slowly filtered underclassmen onto the floor, Elmira stayed in the set mentally but never came close on the scoreboard. Springfield took the second set 25-15 after the combination of Irizarry Pares brothers worked yet again for the Pride. Eli Gabriel set up his brother, Eli, perfectly as he was then able to smash the ball into open space and secure another set victory.
Springfield once again jumped out to a comfortable 8-3 lead early in the third set thanks to consecutive aces from Jasuta. Elmira couldn’t find the answer to the spiking ability of the Pride. The Eagles’ bench could only mutter movie lines and random noises as they watched their team get dominated by the defending champions.
After relatively rough first sets in both matches on Saturday, Coach Sullivan recognized that there is always room for improvement – even for the No. 1 ranked team.
“We need to get better,” Sullivan said. “We had some things we didn’t do well in both of those games, so we have to get in the gym Monday and evaluate what we can improve on.”
The Pride will travel to face off against New Paltz St. on Wednesday. They will then travel to Rivier where they will have another doubleheader against Rivier and Wells College on Saturday. The Pride will not return to Blake Arena until the following Tuesday (2/26) when they will host Rivier in a rematch.
Photo courtesy of Sam Leventhal