Video Courtesy of Springfield College Athletics
By: Jon Santer
Bright flashes, illuminating fireworks, players draped in American flags, holding up their cell phones rolling video. Red, white and blue lights glaring off of everyone’s face, American flags plastered multiple times on the elliptical video board. Seniors Nick Ferry and Ryan Lilley wearing their American flags as if they were capes amongst the entirety of the Springfield College men’s volleyball team waving to the 50,000 fans that welcomed them at the Opening Ceremonies of the 2013 World University Games in Kazan, Russia this past summer.
Springfield College men’s volleyball, you may ask? In Russia?
Try USA men’s volleyball. The Springfield College men’s volleyball team was approached by Nels Hawkinson, the BTI events executive director and United States representative for the World Olympic Games to represent the United States of America at what is commonly known as the Olympics for collegiate athletes.
“It was cool to know what it felt like to be semi-famous for two weeks,” said junior Ryan Quesenberry.
“We would go to practice and work our asses off and then go spend an hour taking pictures,” added Ferry.
“I get chills thinking about it now,” said Sam Zapatka, an assistant coach for the Pride. “It is something that I will never in my life experience ever again.”
A gray minivan rolled up to the curb of the “Lufthansa” portion of Terminal One of John F. Kennedy International Airport. Out stepped a crew, casually dressed in nicely-ironed slacks, sporty dress shoes, sunglasses and maroon and white dri-fit polos, with the “Springfield College Volleyball” tag on the chest. Approaching the curb, head coach Charlie Sullivan, sitting in the front passenger seat, looked back at his assistant coaches Kevin Burch and Tyler Wingate, along with Springfield College’s Sports Information Director Brian Magoffin, and simply murmured the words, “Let’s go.”
The smiles on the faces of the athletes, the high fives between the players, and hugs and kisses as the athletes said good-bye to their parents could bring a tear to the eye. Cardboard boxes were placed on the ground and ripped open by the players, and the maroon and white attire worn by all was quickly exchanged for red, white and blue.
“We had a 10-hour layover in Frankfurt, Germany. Some people could sleep, but I couldn’t. I was too antsy. I just wanted to get there and play volleyball,” stated Quesenberry. “It was a quick flight to Kazan and once we passed through customs, we were greeted by 100 volunteers. Everyone flocked to us, just because we were from the United States.”
The team got right into it. The first stop? St. Petersburg Arena, home of VC-Zenit Kazan, arguably the best volleyball team in the world. What was Springfield College doing there? Practice.
This was the first time the team had been back together on the court since winning a national championship against Nazareth College on April 28, 2013. Most would think that confidence was high. Guess again.
“When we went in the whole time we played we looked at it as a whole opportunity to look better,” said Ferry, sporting a neatly combed mustache and goatee combination. “We took it as if we were two weeks before the National Championship and we worked hard. We knew what we needed to do.”
Although Springfield was scheduled to have a second practice session, Sullivan arranged a one-hour long scrimmage with the Australian National Team. Although Springfield dropped both sets by a close margin (22-25, 24-26), confidence entering pool play was high.
The Pride, representing the United States of America at the World University Games, opened the tournament dropping a 3-0 decision to Estonia (22-25, 17-25, 18-25). Estonia proved themselves as one of the more dominant teams at the tournament. With 10 players having experience playing at the national level, it was unlikely that the Division III athletes from a small school in Springfield, Mass. were going to do much damage.
In his first career start at Springfield College, Quesenberry posted 6 kills and two blocks for the Pride.
“It was crazy. I had played in matches but never started,” commented the 6-foot-5-inch junior from Kingsville, Md. “I was pretty nervous. I think I did well considering our competition.”
Springfield moved on to their next match, Belarus. Despite 10 kills on 13 attempts from graduated captain Greg Falcone and eight kills from senior Jimmy O’Leary, Team USA dropped a three-set match (25-18, 25-15, 25-20). Next up, Russia.
“Before the Russia game we got so many texts, tweets, and emails from our friends and family back home. We knew they would be watching because the game was nationally televised. It was a late match here. I think 8 o’clock, so it was around noon back home. That was pretty cool,” added Quesenberry.
Team Russia, which is made up of 12 professionals playing in what is commonly known as the best professional volleyball league in the world, and six players currently on the roster of the Russian National Team, was a heavy favorite to win gold at the World University games.
Flexing their muscles, Team Russia swept Team USA (13-25, 18-25, 9-25).
“Tonight sums up this unique lifetime experience, where we are growing not only as volleyball players, but as people,” said Sullivan following the loss in an interview with Magoffin. “No other collegiate men’s volleyball program is playing together in our country right now, more or less on national television. Tonight was a wonderful opportunity to display our program, our institution and what Springfield College athletics is all about.”
Following Russia, Team USA carried forward to their match against Hong Kong. Team USA picked up their first set won during the tournament, but still dropped the match in four sets (18-25, 27-25, 23-25,20-25). Quesenberry led the team with an outstanding performance, including 16 kills from the right side.
Closing out pool play with a 3-0 loss to Korea (13-25, 14-25, 22-25), Team USA carried on to face China, who defeated the red, white and blue 3-1 (14-25, 19-25, 25-23, 21-25). In their last game of the World University Games, Team USA had a memorable moment and defeated Macau, 3-1 (26-24, 25-21, 17-25, 25-20). Sophomore Luis Vega and the graduated Mike Pelletier combined for 27 kills in the victory, while sophomore Greg Woods and O’Leary tallied eight kills apiece.
Now it’s September. The leaves are on the brink of changing colors, students walking around campus to and from class can begin to see their own breath in the mornings, and fall sports are entering competition. For Sullivan and the rest of the men’s volleyball team, they will be exchanging their red, white and blue back for maroon and white, getting ready to make an attempt at a third consecutive national championship season.