By Joe Arruda
The No. 1 Springfield College men’s volleyball season continues as they will compete in their tenth consecutive NCAA semifinal match. A possible three-peat looms as the defending back-to-back champions will travel to Kean University in Union, New Jersey for the Final Four this weekend.
On Friday the Pride will face off against a familiar foe in the form of the SUNY New Paltz Hawks. In two previous matchups this year, the Pride defeated the Hawks three sets to one.
In the former on Feb. 20th, three of the Pride’s stars produced kills in the double digits. Star attackers Brennen Brandow, a freshman, and senior Eli Irizarry Pares both had 10 of their own, while graduate student Kyle Jasuta led the way with 12. The team hit .300 with the help of 40 assists from sophomore setter Eli Gabriel Irizarry Pares.
In their second head-to-head of the season on March 13, the Hawks kept the score close in Blake Arena. The Pride hit .250 with Irizarry Pares and Brandow producing 11 and seven kills respectively.
So if the question is if fans should get excited, my answer to that is an emphatic yes.
If you talk to coach Charlie Sullivan, he will remain humble, and probably not even mention the national championship game. The Springfield College mentality includes a strong sense of humility, while bringing a composed and competitive mindset into each point.
A look at the other side of the bracket should Springfield defeat New Paltz St. for a third time this season:
UC Santa Cruz
The Slugs from Santa Cruz are coming off of a strong five set upset of AVCA ranked No. 3 Carthage in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The regular season for the Slugs features notable losses against both SUNY New Paltz and Arcadia, losing those matches 3-1 and 3-0, respectively.
Arcadia is a team who was swept by Rivier University in the first round of the tournament in Blake Arena. Springfield then ended Rivier’s hopes with a dominating sweep the next day.
Raymond Cascio, a senior, leads Santa Cruz with 518 kills on the season. Freshman Matthew Nealon and sophomore Sam Wittert have each contributed over 600 assists for their squad.
If the Ducks should defeat the Slugs in their semifinal game, and all goes as planned with Springfield, a rematch of last year’s national championship game would be in the making. Last year, Springfield swept Stevens and clinched their 11th national championship as a program.
Notable regular season matches for Stevens this year include losses against New York University, Elms College, California Lutheran University, and SUNY New Paltz. Springfield defeated all four of these teams in their 2019 campaign.
On the attack, junior David Lehman leads the Ducks with 387 kills this season. Grant Burden and Jacob Patterson have produced 706 and 566 assists respectively. Stevens has been a prominent defensive team, averaging 2.06 blocks per set compared to Springfield’s 1.88.
If Springfield is able to defeat a tough opponent in SUNY New Paltz, their third consecutive national championship is not seemingly far out of reach.
As the season concludes, four members of the Pride have been named to the AVCA All-America teams. Springfield’s four recognized student-athletes are the most from any program in the country.
The list highlights Eli Gabriel Irizarry Pares on the first team after he produced a phenomenal 870 assists in his 2019 breakout season. Irizarry Pares directed the nation’s sixth-best attack in the country as the team hit .290 on the season. He also led the team with 42 service aces, and contributed to 50 blocks in 2019.
Graduate student Kyle Jasuta is one of three Springfield College student-athletes represented on the second team. Jasuta provided 185 kills at a .425 clip, and led the way for the Pride defensively compiling 73 total blocks and 32 aces.
Johjan Mussa Robles, a junior libero, is also representing The Jersey on the AVCA All-America second team. Mussa Robles contributed a team-high 270 digs, and also provided an immense amount of passion and energy that could’ve arguably been the team’s key to success this year.
Freshman Brennen Brandow’s amazing rookie campaign finalizes the student-athletes from Springfield who have been recognized for their performance. Brandow was the only freshman in the country to receive All-America honors, and the sixth Springfield College athlete to earn the national newcomer of the year award. He led the team with 311 kills on a .273 hitting percentage, to go along with 169 digs, 49 blocks, and 28 aces.
Before the season commenced, Coach Sullivan recognized the expectations for his group and the pressure that comes along with that. The 2019 Pride is a team that features a slew of new faces, and even several returning faces attempting their hand at new positions.
Sullivan said, “There’s a lot of pressure. I’m sure if we have two losses this year it’s gonna be catastrophic.”
Well coach, your team did have two losses, but the season has not been catastrophic to say the least. The beloved program has not dropped the ball, and fans are justifiably excited for what is to come as an impressive season concludes this weekend.
Photo courtesy of Jack Margaros