By Joe Arruda
In their first matchup with a nationally ranked Div. III opponent, the No. 2 Springfield College (5-1) men’s volleyball team came away victorious in Blake Arena on Friday night. The win against No. 8 Wells came in the first of three matches for the Pride this weekend.
Knowing they would be tested, the Pride were preparing hard since their last match against Regis on Tuesday. That match came a day after five members of the team heard the news that a former coach of theirs had passed away after a battle with kidney cancer.
Matt “Dezy” DiStefano was a club and high school coach in Long Island, New York.
“There are five representatives on our team that are from Long Island, and we have all known him in different ways,” Junior setter Matt Lilley said. “He made this (Dezy Strong) Foundation, and we all have contributed in our own ways. We all felt like this year as our foundation to support as a team, that we wanted to have him on the back of our shirts.”
The Pride wore white warm-up shirts on Friday night and on the back, instead of the normal “TRUST,” they featured the orange and black “Dezy Strong Foundation” logo.
In honor of the former coach, the Pride put on a show.
They were getting outmuscled in the first set. The Wells hitters pounded balls into the hardwood or directly at players in the white and maroon who had trouble getting a clean dig. As the set went on, the Pride found themselves in a 23-18 hole.
A few points and a 25 second rally later, Springfield had come back to tie the first set at 23 and the crowd in Blake Arena went wild. A block from first-year Jarrett Anderson the very next play gave the Pride their first lead of the match.
THIS RALLY. Springfield ties it, and then a block from Anderson gives the Pride a set point on the next play. Timeout Wells. 24-23 pic.twitter.com/NqVtR6HWuv
— Joe Arruda (@joearruda9) February 1, 2020
Springfield went on to win the set, 25-23.
After that, they did not look back. The second set wasn’t nearly as close, and the Pride never gave up their lead.
Hitting at an absurd .706 clip, the Pride found their groove on offense and won the set 25-20.
By the time the third set came around, the crowd was fully invested. Cheers from the bench were louder, and Head Coach Charlie Sullivan was slightly more pleased with his team’s performance than he was in the first.
It was much closer. After being tied 10-10 at one point, Springfield began to pull away and forced a Wells timeout when Brennen Brandow’s 18th kill of the night pushed the Pride lead to 19-13. Anderson saved his 15th kill of the night to clinch the sweep.
Lilley led the offense to a .583 hitting percentage on the night, much in part due to his 36 assists.
“Our passing was fantastic, I couldn’t have asked for anything better. I was able to get to the ball well and got it to my hitters and they were able to just take care of the situation,” he said.
“Not many times did we get in a rut and I couldn’t get out of it with our team. I have great hitters around me whether it’s Brennen (Brandow), Jarrett (Anderson), Chris (Parker), Tom (Wollweber) or Liam (York). They all just takeover when we need them to and they just contribute well.”
Brandow, the reigning National Newcomer of the Year, had a huge night for Springfield as he compiled 20 kills on an outrageous .643 hitting percentage. Anderson continued to make his presence known as he contributed 15 kills of his own with a .609 hitting percentage.
“It feels good being able to push the ball to a hot hitter and the hot hand, and they were doing great all night,” Lilley said.
While the Pride offense was hot, their defense continued to find their way against the strong Wells attack. Senior Johjan Mussa Robles led the way defensively with 15 digs, and the team finished with 34 total.
“I don’t know if we dug a lot of balls or if they hit us with a lot of balls,” Sullivan joked. “But we kept the ball forward a little bit and I thought they did a good job of that as well, they had a couple good blocks in there so we knew they we just had to respond and have a good rally of our own.”
Wells was the first nationally ranked test out of Division III for the Pride, but they were prepared after already seeing NAIA Division I opponent Vanguard, and scrimmaging NCAA Division I Sacred Heart at the beginning of the season.
“We’ve had a couple good tests early. To the group’s credit, we really respected this opponent today, we knew how good they were, we knew how good their arms were, and we knew how good they could play. So I think our guys came out with a good focus to give them their best effort.”
Springfield will return to Blake Arena tomorrow where they will host a tri-match featuring SUNY Poly at 1 p.m. and Lasell at 5 p.m..
Photo courtesy of Joe Arruda