The Springfield College men’s volleyball club has earned the right to be called champions these past two years, winning two titles – gathering eight total crowns for Charlie Sullivan. This year’s team was full of inspirational resiliency and most importantly, solidified a competitive group for years to come.
With eight seniors leaving, including outside hitters Mike Pelletier, Evan Acanfora and Brendan McGourn, middle blockers Greg Falcone and Mike Freytag, along with opposite hitters Alistair Matthews and John Coen, and setter Mike Becker, many would think the Pride are in for a rude awakening in their forthcoming journey next year. But naturally, this team has created a foundation to be a dynasty for the foreseeable future.
Sullivan’s team, as they have done in the past, rose to the occasion in the 2013 campaign. Sunday’s commanding three-game sweep against home-favored Nazareth was above and beyond what the Pride had envisioned, and possibly better than last year’s championship that took place in Blake Arena.
“Both championships felt great, there is [no] doubt about it,” Coen said. “The big difference is that we did it in a hostile environment. A lot of people said last year’s championship was a fluke because it was in front of our own crowd. This year we solidified it by beating the No. 2 ranked team on their home court.”
Springfield has had a series of storylines this past year, but one that should be highlighted is the depth that is built into the Pride.
“My assessment is how adaptable our team is,” Pelletier said. “We came into the season expecting to return all our starters and two important players go down with seemingly season-ending injuries. The guys who stepped up saved our season and all 21 guys on our roster contributed. Not many teams can say their third-string players are as important as their starters, but we can.”
Angel Perez, who is recovering remarkably from an agonizing torn ACL, has been a mentor for his “little brother” per say, Luis Vega. Perez, the Naranjito native, would love to be one of the six bodies on the floor, but his presence was a huge help guiding his fellow Puerto Rican to success.
Vega, who registered 199 kills on the season, was honored with the 2013 Most Outstanding Player award in the Division III National Championship Tournament.
“When Rikki was awarded with the MVP, I was very happy for him,” Perez commented. “I strongly believe that heart pays off. Rikki worked really hard during the season and he deserved that award. I’m very happy for him.”
Shifting to the setter position, Keaton Pieper, who was named to the 2012 NCAA Division III Men’s Volleyball All-Tournament Team, had little to be optimistic about three months ago after experiencing two severe herniated discs in his back. But when tournament time arose, Pieper laced up the kicks and emerged back on the court where he was meant to be, as the general on the floor.
“The rehab process was full of good days and bad days,” the second-year setter said. “Good news some days and bad news on others. The course was long and painful, but getting back on the floor with the team made everything worth it. I was just happy, not only to be able to support my team, but help them on the court as well.”
The second-year setter finished with 33 assists in the championship match.
Besides these three players, the Pride are stacked for years to come, whether it is junior superman-phenom Nick Ferry, middle blocker specimen Jimmy O’Leary or other returners. The Pride appear to be in great hands as their seniors depart.
Now, does anybody want to see a three-peat? With the strong foundation and continued talent of the Pride, it is a very real possibility.