Named after William G. Morgan, the inventor of volleyball, The Morgan Classic has been an attraction to all volleyball fans since it’s inception in 1988. The tournament began as a women’s professional match between the Los Angeles Starlites and the New York Liberties at Holyoke High School where the Starlites would become the first ever victor of the tournament.
It only took another year to feature a men’s collegiate match. The Ohio State Buckeyes and the Penn State Nittany Lions were the first two college teams to faceoff. The match ended in a Nittany Lions victory by a score of 3-1.
The 1990 Classic was the first to feature a four-team set. The tournament included a Navy versus Springfield College consolation game and a San Diego State win over Rutgers University in the final.
Beginning in 1991, the Morgan Classic found a new home in Springfield College’s own Blake Arena. The competition has continued to feature some of the best NCAA teams across the nation such as Penn State, Loyola University, and of course Springfield College.
In the most intense matchup of the 2016 weekend, the Pride (11-1) defeated the Harvard Crimson in five sets to avenge the 2015 finals matchup, which saw Harvard walk away with the hardware.
Set one was as back and forth, featuring 19 ties and eight lead changes. Springfield rallied 22 kills with three of the vital kills coming off of the powerful strikes of Ricardo Padilla Ayala, leading to a 35-33 nail-biting win. Set two ended with the Pride on cruise control earning 14 straight points in a 25-15 set victory.
Down to a 2-0 deficit, Harvard pulled it back in sets three and four. The Crimson racked up a .500 hitting percentage in set three leading to a 25-19 win with a large contribution from Brad Gretsch who totalled five kills in the set out of 13 total in the match. The fourth set was close, but after a timeout called by Harvard with the game tied at 13 a piece, it went on a 4-1 run and never looked in the rear-view mirror.
Set five featured Springfield jumping out to a 4-1 start after a momentum-starting kill by Garcia Rubio. A block by senior Greg Woods and sophomore Joseth Irrizary Feliciano gave the Pride an 8-5 lead heading into the switch. After Springfield extended its lead to 13-10, the Crimson fought their way back in, tying the game at 13 all. A Harvard service error set Springfield up 14-13 and Padilla Ayala put it all away as he racked up his 21st kill of the match.
“We’ve had nine games on the road, so I think we had a chance to develop our team and game a little bit and then bring it back to Blake Arena. So, it’s kind of cool to have a chance to finally show what we’ve been working on for a month. Harvard is a good Division I team and this shows that we can play with a lot of people and I think that we can get even better,” Springfield coach Charlie Sullivan said.
Springfield was well represented throughout the tournament with Luis Vega and Ricardo Padilla Ayala being selected to the All-Tournament Team and Luis Garcia Rubio winning MVP honors.
In addition to the championship game that was featured on Saturday, a consolation game was also held between the University of Puerto Rico and New York University as well as two play-in games on Friday.