By Joe Arruda
The 33rd annual International Volleyball Hall of Fame Morgan Classic will commence at Blake Arena for the 29th consecutive year on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 7-8.
William G. Morgan invented the game of volleyball in 1895, just four years after James Naismith invented basketball. The game was invented just eight miles up the interstate at the YMCA in Holyoke, Mass.
Morgan graduated from Springfield College in 1894 and went on to work at the YMCA as a physical director. The first public exhibition volleyball match was played at Springfield.
Every year the event includes highly competitive teams, but this year is a little different.
The tournament sets off with one of the most highly anticipated matchups in the NCAA Division III this year. At 6:00 p.m. on Friday, the No. 2 ranked Springfield College Pride will host a match against top-ranked SUNY New Paltz.
No. 1 vs. No. 2 will always be a high power match in just about any aspect, but this one is significant. Last year, when the Pride were poised for a run at a third consecutive national championship, the Hawks defeated them in four sets in the NCAA Semifinals.
That came after the Pride had already taken down New Paltz twice in the regular season, once on the road, and once in Blake Arena.
The Pride just didn’t look right. With students live streaming the match that took place in New Jersey on their phones and computers, “Springfield College volleyball” is not what they saw.
It was an uncharacteristic match, the Pride struggled to keep their heads above water while the Hawks hitters pounded balls onto their side of the court.
After almost a complete lineup change, a shift in mentality, and the emergence of young stars, a chance at revenge is inevitable.
“We just want to be a different team than last year, we just want New Paltz to be like, ‘Wow, that’s a different team,’” Springfield head coach Charlie Sullivan said. “And we want to score more points than they do.”
After the first match, the competition will not drop too far. This year’s Morgan Classic also will bring in No. 6 Rivier and No. 12 Stevenson.
The Raiders and the Mustangs will follow the battle of top-ranked teams at 8 p.m. on Friday.
Saturday will begin with clinics for players and coaches in Blake Arena, led by the four participating teams from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.. A consolation match will follow at 6 p.m. and the Morgan Classic championship game is slated for 8 p.m..
“It’s always been – to the credit of coach Joel Dearing, who started it – it’s always been an event that supports volleyball in the community and we get a large amount of the community supporting us and coming to the clinic,” Sullivan said. “It’s just a really complete volleyball activity that kind of grows the game a little bit. It’s a good opportunity for our players to give back. Having the prestige of the Hall of Fame behind the tournament just makes for a special weekend.”
Between matches on Saturday, the International Volleyball Hall of Fame will host a spike/bounce competition where members of the four teams will compete in a light-hearted event to show off their skills.
The Pride look for their fifth consecutive Morgan Classic title after defeating Vassar in four sets last year.
“We’re just going to play hard, play our level of volleyball, and focus on the process,” Sophomore standout Brennen Brandow said. “Going into those games we’ve got to focus on what our side’s doing and play hard.”
While the season is still young, the Pride can build onto their resume this weekend at home with some success over some of the most competitive teams in D-III, hoping for a bid into the NCAA tournament.