By Joe Arruda
After a 17-day layoff last season, the then-No. 1 Springfield College men’s volleyball team suffered its only loss to Wentworth Institute of Technology. When the Pride welcomed a rematch with the No. 10 ranked Leopards, this time in Blake Arena on Thursday night, there was an eerily similar feel before top-ranked Springfield wound up winning, 3-1.
Thursday, 14 days after Springfield’s last two matches – when the team swept both No. 3 Stevens and Rivier on Feb. 12 – the rust peeked out from underneath the maroon and white uniforms on several occasions.
Springfield won a hard-fought first set by a score of 25-23 before dropping the second, 25-20. The Pride weren’t hitting well and when they did, all momentum was snatched away by a poor performance at the service line. The struggles carried over defensively at the net as they allowed Wentworth to hit at a .429 clip in set two.
At the start of set three there was an abnormal gloom that filled Blake Arena. Wentworth raced out to an 18-11 lead after capitalizing on uncharacteristic Springfield reception mistakes and service errors. A pair of kills from Jarrett Anderson and multiple offensive errors for the Leopards allowed the Pride to claw back to within five.
It was then that mastermind head coach Charlie Sullivan made a decision that completely flipped momentum towards Springfield.
The 11-time national champion turned to the bench and called for senior Troy Von Holt and first-year Ethan Weislo. Weislo’s twin brother, Noah, earned an ace immediately after the substitution. Nate Reynolds then notched a kill before Von Holt did what he does best and blocked the Wentworth attack straight down onto the visiting side of the net to bring the Pride within two.
“I’ll take some credit for that,” Sullivan joked. “Troy comes in the front row and gets a really good block. He’s been blocking when we’ve needed him.”
Moments later facing a Wentworth set point, Chris Parker took over. Teaming up with All-American Jarrett Anderson, the pair kept Springfield alive with a strong block. On the next point, as Wentworth led 24-23, Parker took his spot behind the service line. His serve was smoked onto Wentworth’s side of the court for an ace, tying the set at 24 and negating the set point.
“Any lead the other team has, we feel like we can come back,” senior Brennen Brandow said. “We’re that type of team that could rally some points and just play to our potential, which is great volleyball – and that’s what we did.”
The ending of the third set summed up what Springfield has dealt with over the course of the past two seasons – it was a full circle moment. On one end it was dominance from Anderson and Brandow but on the other it was rust after COVID-related cancellations.
The hard-hitting duo, who each collected AVCA Newcomer of the Year recognition after their respective first-year seasons, took over as they’ve done since they began sharing the court together in 2019-20. On each Wentworth set point – and there were five of them in the third – setter Matt Lilley managed to find one of his hard-hitters and they capitalized every time, exciting the Blake Arena crowd.
“There’s definitely a lot of energy between me and Jarrett. It’s like that a lot, it’s just pushing that next level, really demanding the ball and just kind of taking ownership of it,” Brandow said. “We have great players on our team and some step up at certain times, and that’s what we did.”
But after each kill the rust came through on the Springfield server and resulted in an error. The Pride finished the match with 29 service errors compared to Wentworth’s 17.
“We only had two practices in the last 12 or 13 days – we had everyone in quarantine,” Sullivan said. “It’s not easy to come out of your bedroom and have great rhythm. I think the errors were expected but I think the competitiveness wasn’t rusty at all.”
A kill from Brandow was followed by a block to give Springfield a 31-29 comeback victory in the set three marathon. The crowd erupted, Sullivan pumped his fist and the team carried the momentum to win the fourth and final set, 25-20.
Anderson finished with a match-high 20 kills while hitting at a .486 clip and Brandow tallied 16 kills with a hitting percentage of .393.
“We’re definitely happy to be back with everyone on the squad, we had some guys out but we were just happy to be back and hopefully this Saturday against Vassar we play really well,” Brandow said.
The Pride will travel to Vassar this weekend, on Feb. 26, for a rematch of this year’s Morgan Classic opener. On Feb. 4, Springfield (now 11-0) came back to beat the Brewers in five sets in front of an electric home crowd. Since then, Vassar has climbed up to the No. 2 spot in the AVCA Coaches Poll with a 9-1 record.
Photo by Joe Arruda