For the third straight time, Springfield College made a trip to the Volleyball Hall of Fame William Morgan Classic championship game and for the second straight season, the Pride were knocked off on their home court.
In the semifinals, the Pride took down University of California – Santa Cruz in four sets, 25-22, 25-15, 23-25, and 25-21. Ryan Malone led the way with 17 kills while Angel Perez added 12.
In the first set, Perez landed an early kill to go up 9-6, before junior setter Keaton Peiper’s ace sent the lead to 19-16. Freshman outside hitter Sean Zuvich landed a kill to make it 23-20 before senior middle blocker Jimmy O’Leary sent down a giant kill to finish the Banana Slugs, capping off the first set..
Springfield continued to dominate in the second set, going up 8-1 early. Freshman middle blocker Sean Peterson landed a kill to make it 14-6 before Zuvich ended another UC – Santa Cruz run to make it 17-9. Peterson and Malone teamed up on a block to win the second set.
The Slugs used an early 7-3 lead to avoid the sweep. The Pride would rally late, as sophomore Luis Vega and O’Leary would team up on a block to make it 12-10. The Banana Slugs would send a kill attempt into the net to make it 16-15 but Springfield would be unable to get any closer as a Pride serve attempt would go into the net, giving Santa Cruz their first win of the match.
The Pride used an early lead again to claim victory in the fourth set. With the game tied at 12 points apiece, a pair of Santa Cruz players collided, giving the Pride a 13-12 lead. O’Leary and Vega combined for a block to extend the lead to 21-16 before Malone finished the match with a kill into the heart of the Banana Slug defense.
“(The key was) communication on and off the court,” Malone said. “Anytime we made an error we just communicated as best as we could to fix that error as best as possible and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
On Saturday night, in the championship match, the Pride fell to Concordia University for the second time this season, losing three straight sets 25-18, 25-22, 25-15.
O’Leary led the Pride with 11 kills while Perez added seven kills and Malone tallied six. Freshman setter Luis Garcia Rubio led the Pride with 26 assists. However, the loss sends the Pride to 12-7 on the season while Concordia, a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics team from Irvine, Calif., improves to 14-3 overall.
The Pride kept it close in the first set for the majority of the way. A diving save from Nick Ferry followed by a kill from Perez tied the game at 10 points apiece before O’Leary landed a kill to give the Pride a 12-10 advantage. After each team sent serves into the net to make it 14-12, the Eagles went on a 4-0 run, aided by a pair of Pride hitting errors to go up 16-14.
From that point on, Concordia kept a stranglehold on the scoreboard, reeling off a 9-4 run to win the first set.
The Pride remained close again in the second set, but failed to take the lead throughout. A Malone kill made it 7-6 early on, before O’Leary and Malone combined for a block to make it 14-12. O’Leary kept the Pride alive late with a diving save before Concordia sent a kill attempt into the net, but a successful kill from the Eagles’ senior Harrison Carroll ended Springfield’s comeback bid. Carroll finished the match with 10 kills.
In the third set, the Pride fell down early before a quick run by Concordia put the game out of reach. Naseri Tumanuvao, the eventual tournament MVP, put down a massive kill to make it 14-8, before Josh Duarte added a giant kill of his own to make it 15-8.
“They’re a tough team,” said Malone. “Getting that exposure to them twice in one season is rare so we are going to have a competitive drive to work hard in practice and improve all the time.”
Saturday marked the seventh trip to the William Morgan Classic final, the second time they’ve made it three straight seasons. The only team to accomplish that feat is Penn State University, who made it from 1994-1997 and from 2004-2006. The loss sends the Pride to 1-6 in Championship game appearances, the lone win coming in 2012 when they took down Lees McRae in straight sets.
The Pride return to action on Tuesday when they host Emmanuel before hosting four teams on Friday and Saturday.
With just over half the season remaining, the Pride will begin the championship run, aiming to improve.
“There’s not much that we have to change,” said Malone. “Its just little things we have to improve on. Passing more consistently, better communication all the time. I don’t think it’s too much that we need to change, it’s just things we have to tweak.”