By Joe Arruda
Down two sets to none, No. 2 Springfield College was struggling to find the floor on their attack, and No. 8 Endicott was dancing. With a 14-12 Pride lead in the third set, the Gulls had their sights set on a sweep of the defending champions.
The celebration for the team in teal began too early.
Pride fans were awe stricken by the potential sweep of their team while watching them get dominated.
When the Pride lead in the third set increased to four, 16-12, a timeout gave a frustrated Head Coach Charlie Sullivan a chance to fire up his team.
“We need to play Springfield College Volleyball,” Sullivan yelled to his team in the huddle, his face beet red with passion.
They did just that.
The leading attackers for the Pride struggled in the first two sets, but after Sullivan’s speech they completely turned it around.
The Pride went on to win an intense third set 26-24 with help from Senior Eli Irizarry Pares. After being benched in the second set due to his own struggles, hitting a negative percentage, some time on the bench was all he needed.
Graduate Student Kyle Jasuta was not ready to have his senior night spoiled by a strong Endicott team. He reiterated to his teammates that they have to remain calm as the possibility of a comeback loomed throughout the arena.
The energy never faded from the hearts of the Pride as they went on to win the fourth set 25-19. Despite his own struggles in the first two sets, freshman Brennen Brandow quickly turned himself into the player of the match as the game continued. Refusing to quit, he led the way in the fourth whilst smashing eight kills.
The intensity in Blake Arena remained through the roof as the match progressed. Playing with their backs to the wall the whole match, Springfield reiterated that they needed to keep fighting.
“Be loud for them boys, be loud for them,” Sophomore Matt Lilley preached to his teammates on the bench.
Both teams never lost their fight. In the fifth set Springfield saw a 10-7 deficit on the scoreboard. Jasuta found the back left corner of the court twice, extending the score to 9-11. After an Endicott attack flew out of bounds, crashing into the back wall, the fans in Blake Arena got to their feet.
Springfield won four straight points, and on Brandow’s 24th kill of the match the Pride sensed a victory for the first time. Their energy remained high, and they knew that they had to finish the job. Endicott was not ready to allow a comeback, they forced a 15-15 tie. Students and families sat at the edge of the wooden bleachers in anticipation.
Wouldn’t it be tragic to fight all the way back and lose in the fifth set?
This is not what would happen.
Eli Gabriel stole the show on his brother’s senior day as he slammed one of his signature reverse spikes into the hardwood. Springfield gained a 16-15 advantage and sophomore Chris Parker took his spot behind the service line.
He stood still for a few seconds as Blake Arena went silent. With his right hand he tossed the red, white, and blue ball up towards the rafters and swung. The serve was on a line with a trajectory headed straight for Ryan Healy, the Endicott senior libero. His dig flew straight to the right, to his teammates on the bench. The Arena erupted into a frenzy.
— Joe Arruda (@joearruda9) March 30, 2019
“Unbelievable” was the only word that Springfield fans could muster.
“Me and Eli [Irizarry Pares] were both struggling, hitting negative in the beginning. Listening to the coaches where to hit, seeing the blockers definitely helped in the third and fourth set, passing went up too. Me and Eli took a different approach at hitting at just got our mindset right after the second set,” said Brandow, the freshman who has quickly turned into a star.
Despite his struggles along with his teammates and mentors in the beginning of the match, Brandow was able to pick up his game. He finished the match with 24 kills.
“He (Brandow) didn’t really play well in the beginning and he did what we were talking about with taking the flow of the match and taking some shots and getting better as the match went on which was great. Good learning experience for a young guy,” Sullivan said.
Eli Gabriel Irizarry Pares directed the Pride offense, finishing with 46 assists as his teammates did their best to hit around a strong Endicott block. The Gulls finished with 11.5 team blocks compared to Springfield’s 6.
What seemed like was going to be a heartbreaking sweep on senior day turned into a match that the Springfield leaders and all in attendance will remember for a long time.
“In those matches when you’re playing for a long time you’ve got to take some really good shots and play the flow of the match. I think we did a really good job of that, I just thought we could’ve had game two,” said Sullivan. “We just had some silly plays at the end and they played some good rallies.”
“Our guys fought hard and stayed in. We were down 10-7 in set five that’s hard to do, to come back and get that game. We learned a lot today for sure.”
Springfield completed a sweep of Hunter College in the first game of the tri-match. The first game was also highlighted by Brandow and Jasuta as they tallied 15 and 8 kills, respectively. The Pride hit .410 in that match, led by 38 assists from Eli Gabriel Irizarry Pares.
Springfield will finish their season on the road as they have four games remaining. Their next matchup will be Tuesday, Apr. 2 against Lasell.
Photo courtesy of Sam Leventhal