Perhaps the most difficult part of winning a national championship is the following season. Of course, the spotlight and the glamor of a championship is unrivaled. But the following season, when a giant target has been plastered on your back, the difficulty rises. For the Springfield College men’s volleyball team, that target is twice as big, as they set to begin their title defense for the second year in a row.
For Springfield College, the path towards a third national championship didn’t even begin in Springfield, Mass. It began in Kazan, Russia. Over the summer, the Springfield College men’s volleyball team traveled overseas to take part in the World University Games, representing the United States of America.
The Pride faced competition from Australia, Belarus, Russia and Korea, among others. While the Pride didn’t return to the States victorious on the court, the true victory came within the experience.
“It’s unexplainable if you haven’t done it,” said coach Charlie Sullivan. “I thought it was really special. It was an awesome opportunity to represent Springfield College, the United States and our families and everything we do in a great manner.”
Returning state side, the Pride look to cap the three-peat while boasting a roster full of experienced veterans as well as a core group of newcomers who will look to make an immediate impact.
The Pride return high-flying outside hitter Ricky Vega, the NCAA Most Outstanding Player from the 2013 NCAA Tournament, as well as key setter Keaton Pieper. And while the Pride do have multiple stars, the key for Sullivan remains in the veteran leadership.
“[The upperclassman] have a little more experience,” Sullivan said. “When adversity strikes, they just mentor in terms of staying positive.”
Among the newcomers to Sullivan’s squad is senior Ryan Malone.
Malone starred on the Springfield College men’s soccer team in the fall.
Playing a major role in all seven of the games that the Pride have had this season, Malone has tallied 32 kills at a .227 clip while also compiling 19 assists, aiding in the defending national champions’ impressive 4-3 start to the year.
“I’ve always had a passion for volleyball and whatever I’m doing I try to compete at the highest level, so having confidence in being a leader from soccer it’s been easy to be a leader on the volleyball court as well,” commented Malone. “I want a national championship just as much as the rest of the guys and being a part of this team is such an honor. We all have motivation to be the best, so both for the team and myself, motivation is extremely high.”
The Pride, who have won two Division III National Championships in as many years, welcomed Malone with open arms.
“Right away everyone was very welcoming and accepting to another player joining the team,” added the local product out of Chicopee, Mass. “Their reaction seemed to be very positive, which was comforting.”
Sullivan will attempt to keep the team hungry for another championship under control, trying to remove the attention the previous two seasons have brought to his program.
“You take the product emphasis out of there, and all that attention to the result out of there, you got to look at you’re going about things,” said Sullivan. “It’s all about our process and how well we are focusing on things we need to be better at, how positive we are in terms of staying connected to those things even when it doesn’t look good.”
Make no mistake about it, while Sullivan does try to downplay the fact that the Pride are reigning champions, this team still has bigger goals