By Joe Arruda
With the score 14-10 in the fifth set, first-year Jarrett Anderson cocked his left arm back behind his head. Eyes locked on the ball, he swung his arm down with force, sending the ball flying over the net, across the court. It landed just out of bounds, and No. 1 New Paltz celebrated.
The Hawks thought they had another chance.
However, the ball had been deflected off the blockers at the net, giving Springfield the point.
Fans donning white, parents from all over the country and a deer head mount packed Blake Arena. They were on their feet screaming, cheering, some just standing there in shock with a layer of goosebumps over their skin.
It was the point that won the match for the Pride. But it was much more than that. The maroon and white defeated one of their biggest rivals in an electric atmosphere, getting their long awaited revenge from the match last year that ended their season. They also advanced to their ninth straight International Volleyball Hall of Fame Morgan Classic championship game.
JARRETT ANDERSON WINS IT FOR THE PRIDE. The first-year had FIVE kills AND an ace AND a block in the fifth set. pic.twitter.com/TjJz6WBoN1
— Joe Arruda (@joearruda9) February 8, 2020
For Anderson, though, he was still in high school when that match took place.
“It feels great, I honestly don’t have the words to describe it,” Anderson said. “We knew we had to keep fighting, keep playing strong. We knew we were capable of winning.”
Until the fourth set, the Pride seemed to struggle. Their hits were just a bit off, either hitting off the Hawks blockers or landing just outside the black court outline.
In the first set the Pride found themselves staring at a five point deficit on the scoreboard, but the support from the fans never wavered and the energy from the bench only intensified.
Back-to-back aces from junior Chris Parker and an ace from classmate Matt Lilley brought the Pride back and tied the set at 21. They would carry the momentum a bit further into their next few points, until they saw a 24-23 score.
Astin Sesoko has been used frequently this year as a serving specialist, and the sophomore entered the match for what would end up being one of the more important situations.
His serve flew onto the New Paltz side of the court with a mind of its own. After deflecting off of multiple players and the Blake Arena ceiling, the ball found its place on the court, and the Pride found their place in the set win column on the scoreboard.
Astin Sesoko wins set one with an ace! 25-23 pic.twitter.com/7Tpqsh7bGY
— Joe Arruda (@joearruda9) February 7, 2020
The second set was a tight, back and forth battle from start to finish. After 12 tied scores and four lead changes, the Hawks came away with a 27-25 win.
The momentum from set two carried the Hawks into the third set as they were in full control at the net. They forced several Pride attack errors and even blocked a few en route to a 25-19 victory that gave them a 2-1 lead in the match. Springfield was held to an abysmal -.211 hitting percentage in the set, and they desperately needed something to refuel their fire.
The leadership came from a usual source: Johjan Mussa Robles.
The lone senior on the team squatted at the bench and calling out each of his teammates’ names on the court, he pleaded, ‘Right now, right now.”
His teammates nodded.
They went on to win the fourth set in the most dominant set win of the night, 25-15.
“We were tested,” Pride head coach Charlie Sullivan said. “We were in a tough spot and we just had to respond by being a little smarter so I think our guys did a really nice job with that.
“I think at that point our whole team started to take smarter swings, not trying to take something spectacular but something really good and tone it down a little bit and I think that’s all Jarrett did. He just took smart swings, Brennen did the same thing, we just had a ton of guys (perform well towards the end).”
WE’RE GOING TO SET FIVE. Pride win the fourth, 25-15 pic.twitter.com/7U1w2Azvay
— Joe Arruda (@joearruda9) February 8, 2020
Going into the fifth set, all of the momentum was wearing white and maroon.
They got out to a quick 8-2 lead in a set that was dominated by the pair who have led the Pride all season to this point, Anderson and Brennen Brandow.
Anderson compiled 5 kills, an ace and a block in the 15 point fifth set, and bursted into the first real emotion he’s shown all season. After the block, he came down with his fist swinging, and screamed in excitement and anticipation as to what was to come.
He was meant for this moment. It was arguably the most electric volleyball atmosphere in Blake Arena since it hosted the National Championship in 2017. Fans filled the bleachers and the surrounding area on the upper level, cheering with every point.
“It was a lot of fun. Students make the games that much better and it was just a great environment overall,” Brandow said.
Sullivan added, “We knew New Paltz was a good team, we have a ton of respect for their program. We knew it was going to be a competitive match. It was a fun match, it was a good environment, and we just were working all the time just to get one more rally.”
Anderson finished the match with 21 kills on a .317 hitting percentage against a tough New Paltz team defensively. Brandow added 13 kills, while Lilley contributed 38 assists and led the team with 13 digs.
The competition will remain heavy for the remainder of the weekend as the Morgan Classic continues. In the championship match on Saturday at 8 p.m., Springfield will play host to No. 12 Stevenson in hopes of their fifth straight Classic championship.