For the last two seasons, there has been no doubt about who the best Division III volleyball team in the country is. Springfield College has dominated the men’s volleyball scene, claiming back-to-back national titles with a 30-game winning streak sprinkled in. But the tides may be changing. The Pride dropped a pair of contests to No. 3 New Paltz and No. 1 Rivier over the weekend, bringing their record to 10-6 on the season. On Friday night, the Pride suffered a rough loss to No. 3 ranked New Paltz, falling 25-23, 25-22, 25-23. Springfield lost the first set, as they were unable to establish a serious lead throughout. New Paltz took advantage of Springfield’s mistakes, coupled with timely blocks to take the set.
In the second, the Pride managed to claim an early 3-1 lead by landing successful kills, but a pair of net violations on Springfield and missed kill attempts allowed New Paltz to rally back to take a 6-3 lead. Once again, the Pride’s miscues cost them, as they sent four serves into the net en route to a 25-22 loss. In the third and final set, New Paltz once again dominated. Every time the Pride went on a run, New Paltz managed to turn them aside. After falling behind early, Springfield rallied using a pair of Angel Perez kills to pull within one before Jimmy O’Leary landed a crucial block to tie the set at 19.
However, New Paltz answered with a 5-3 run to get match point. Ryan Malone managed to keep the game alive with a vicious kill, but Luis Vega’s serve attempt on the ensuing point ended the set and the match. The win for New Paltz avenges a loss suffered earlier in the year when Springfield defeated the Hawks 3-1 in New York. Vega and Perez paced the Pride offense with nine kills apiece, while Keaton Pieper picked up 35 assists. As a team, the Pride tallied nine team kills, compared to seven from New Paltz.
On Saturday, the Pride responded with an impressive comeback against top-ranked Rivier, only to have their efforts cut short in the fifth set. After dropping the first two sets, Springfield responded with two impressive set wins, led by the impressive play of Greg Woods and Sean Zuvich. In the fifth set, Rivier survived a pair of match points before blocking a Pride strike to claim the victory, their second over Springfield this season. In the first, Springfield and Rivier traded runs. The Pride kicked off the set on a 5-2 run before Rivier rallied back. Blocks from Rivier prevented Springfield’s offense from gaining any traction, as they piled up four team blocks in the set as well as 14 kills to claim a 25-23 set victory.
After falling behind early in the second set, O’Leary sent a rocket through the center of Rivier to bring the Pride within one. The Pride would tie it at 15 on a Ryan Lilley kill. Rivier followed on a 6-2 run, punctuated by a pair of Terence Matatall kills en route to a 25-20 set win.
With their backs against the wall in the third set, Springfield roared out of the gates, going up 4-0, forcing a timeout from Rivier. With three freshmen on the floor, the Pride continued to extend their lead, using a block from Sean Peterson and a kill from Perez to go up 14-5. Trailing 20-10, Rivier suddenly erupted, mounting an 8-3 run and pulling within five at 23-18 before Perez dropped in a soft kill to give Springfield their first win of the match, 25-19.
Springfield continued on the comeback trail, tying the game at 17 with a kill from Zuvich and taking the lead on a second Zuvich kill. The Pride would make the game 23-21 when Woods flew in from the left side and landed a booming kill. Woods would send the match to the fifth and final set when he landed his 10th kill of the match.
“We really have a lot of depth on our bench,” said Woods, “so it was easy for guys to step up. Everybody on our team can play and we really showed it.”
Woods finished with 14 kills, while Zuvich added 14 of his own and Perez tallied a team-high 17.
The Pride were sparked by Zuvich, Peterson and Luis Garcia Rubio, three freshmen inserted into the line-up in the third set, and ignited the offense. The three freshmen, paired with Woods, O’Leary, Perez and Nick Ferry, outscored Rivier 67-58 over the final three sets.
“[The offense] clearly wasn’t working [through the first two sets],” said coach Charlie Sullivan. “We needed to change it up.”
Although the Pride did drop both matches to Rivier and New Paltz, they claimed victories over Bard, and Johnson and Wales during the Springfield Invitational this past weekend. The Pride return to action this Friday in a match-up with UC Santa Cruz in the first game of the Volleyball Hall of Fame/Morgan Classic.