By Joe Arruda
For Springfield College men’s volleyball, the season has been shaping up to be one similar to their previous championship years. This year’s team has lost just two games, the same number that they lost in the last two years.
What’s so special about having two losses?
I don’t know if there’s any significance with the number two, but they have won the NCAA National Championship in each of those years.
The 2019 team has looked strong, with one hiccup coming against Rivier University. Fueled by the sight of star senior Eli Irizarry Pares on the Pride bench, Rivier went on to dismantle a then-ranked No. 1 Springfield College team. The Pride were swept in straight sets at Blake Arena for the first time since 2014.
While that February 26 game was its only meaningful bump in the road thus far (their other loss coming to Div. I Concordia in the season opener), the Pride’s final home game of the season was one to remember.
In a nutshell, the Pride were down two sets to none against then-ranked No. 8 Endicott. The Gulls were carving up the Springfield defense, finding just about any open space on the floor at will. Brennen Brandow and Eli Irizarry Pares — usually star attackers — struggled mightily against the Endicott blockers.
When head coach Charlie Sullivan decided that changes needed to be made in the second set, Irizarry Pares found a spot on the sideline. He was not out all game though, and after getting a chance to recollect and focus on changing his game, he came out swinging. The hitting numbers drastically increased, and Springfield found themselves heading to a fifth set.
The emotions in Blake Arena fluctuated greatly the entire day. The game was the final one of a tri-match which also featured Hunter College. In the first matchup of the day, Springfield quickly swept Hunter in straight sets, but all followers of the team knew the big game would come later.
It was senior day and parents traveled from across the country and Puerto Rico to watch their sons’ final regular season game. Kyle Jasuta’s along with Mike Neary’s families traveled from California, and the Irizarry Pares family all the way from Puerto Rico.
Their final game seemed as though it would be a heartbreaker. The senior class had a record of 100-5 against Div. III opponents, and a sixth loss was looming. In a close fifth set, they had some help from underclassmen, which turned the game from devastation to one they will never forget.
Though their regular season has concluded in Blake Arena, the team will finish off on the road with three more games. They will head to Vassar College (12-12) to match up with the Brewers for a third time this season. Springfield won those two games 3-0 and 3-1. In the second game of a Vassar College tri-match, the Pride will take on Daemen College (6-13).
The regular season will end just the way it started with a finale against a Div. I opponent. This time it will be the Sacred Heart Pioneers (3-13). Sacred Heart has played a fairly tough schedule, but they did sweep St. Joseph’s (L.I.) who the Pride beat in a close four sets.
Sullivan and his squad will always remain in the present, focused on playing “Springfield College Volleyball” every time out. Fans though do have every reason to get excited. The program is one of the most dominant among those at Springfield College, and a third straight NCAA Championship is what everyone is hoping for.
A season that involved great changes for the Pride, whether it be decorated veterans switching positions, or an influx of underclassmen, has lived up to the hype thus far. Brandow, a freshman, has started carving his own path to what could be a fantastic career wearing “The Jersey.” Eli Irizarry Pares and Mike Neary, both seniors who switched positions, have done so successfully.
The factor that I have noticed all season long is the energy that this group of athletes carry around with them. In any of their close matches, energy is what determines a win or a loss. This was evident in the win against Endicott, and also in the loss against Rivier.
As we approach season’s end, this team has exceeded expectations from fans, and they are not done yet. Springfield is ranked No. 2 in the country in the latest AVCA National Coaches Poll, and No. 1 in the East by the NCAA Regional Poll.
They will head to Poughkeepsie for the Vassar tri-match on Saturday, and then finish off the regular season with Sacred Heart the following Wednesday.