By Joe Arruda
As opposed to Friday night’s match that featured two of the top 10 teams in Div. III, the mood in Blake Arena was a little different on Saturday, a little more loose. The Springfield College men’s volleyball team (7-1), ranked No. 2 in the country coming into the weekend, hosted a tri-match against SUNY Poly (3-4) and Lasell (3-5).
Entering the first game knowing that it was only the second of three matches for the Pride this weekend, Head Coach Charlie Sullivan decided it was appropriate to give the normal starters some rest. But, gathered at the end of the bench, they didn’t do much resting.
Before every play they were loud, yelling, ‘Jumper!’ ‘Focus!’ ‘Reset!’ they had their teammate’s back.
The focus of the team this year is built on trust. Sullivan is looking for more of a cohesive team this year, one unit where everyone has their own role to play. And on Saturday they showed it off.
“It’s great (when other guys get the chance to play). They cheer for us, the bench does a great job every point, every game to cheer for the starters so we had to return that job,” Sophomore Brennen Brandow said.
While the set didn’t necessarily go in their favor, dropping it 25-20, the experience is valuable in gaining depth on the roster.
Sullivan said, “There’s no better way (to get experience) than by putting the shirts on and competing. SUNY Poly played really well, I think they played at a higher level than we expected.”
First-year Liam York was one of the main players to take advantage of a little extra playing time. His role has seen him as a starter with All-Americans like Brandow, and he has also come off the bench. In the SUNY Poly match he produced a career-high 14 kills on a strong .375 hitting percentage.
Liam York’s 13th kill of the match wins the third set for Springfield, 25-20. Pride, 2-1. pic.twitter.com/xM1DPJg9yS
— Joe Arruda (@joearruda9) February 1, 2020
His first-year counterpart Jarrett Anderson continued his trend of having unbelievable numbers after coming in late in the first set. He ended the match with a team-high 17 kills on a phenomenal .577 hitting percentage, and also contributed on defense with five digs.
After a break in between matches while SUNY Poly and Lasell duked it out, Springfield was all business.
Brandow, who struggled to hit around the block in the first match, knew he had to return to his typical form in the second.
“We just brought our ‘A’ game, changing our mindset from the first game to the second game,” he said.
And, that he did.
His numbers returned to where they have settled for most of the young season. He finished the match with 16 kills on a .480 hitting percentage, raising that mark from 7 kills on a .100 clip earlier in the day.
Anderson also continued to impress, adding 12 more kills on a .391 hitting percentage. His total on the day rose to 29 kills on a .490 clip.
Anderson wins the match for the Pride with an ace! Springfield, 3-0 pic.twitter.com/qJpfwcQJLl
— Joe Arruda (@joearruda9) February 1, 2020
Junior setter Matt Lilley finished the day with 67 assists, leading the team to a .400 hitting percentage combined for both matches.
Coming off of a huge win the night before against No. 8 Wells, today’s games were noticeably different, the coaching style was different, and the bodies on the court were new. Having to play two matches in one day also played a factor in strategy.
“It’s a challenge when you’re playing two in a day because you want to stay in the moment but you have to do a little bit of future forecasting too so you have to have a little balance there,” Sullivan said.
“You have to be good physically, mentally, it’s a long time in the gym. We need to have a certain amount of matches played during our schedule, and it’s kind of a common thing in the culture of Division III men’s volleyball. We are always going to be kind of an at-large bid so we have to compare really well and have some good wins.”
When Sullivan is coaching in a game that seems to be under his control, he likes to experiment; to test what he has on his roster, but he is always prepared for the chips to start falling in the wrong direction.
“We’re getting better at some things,” he said. “A volleyball match is like a long novel, when you’re in the middle of a match, the whole thing could change. The plot could change in the middle, so we just have to adjust to the next chapter and want it to end really well.”
The Pride will return to Blake Arena on Friday night when they will host the International Volleyball Hall of Fame Morgan Classic. They will match up with No. 1 SUNY New Paltz in the 6:00 p.m. game on Friday and also play on Saturday in either the consolation or championship game. The tournament will feature the No. 1, No. 2, No. 6, and No. 12 teams in the country.
Photo courtesy of Joe Arruda