By Joe Arruda
Blake Arena underwent a tremendous makeover in preparation for hosting the first in-person athletic event of the year. With chairs placed six feet apart on opposite sides of the gym, the wood bleachers pushed completely in and no spectators inside, the Springfield College men’s volleyball team, ranked No. 1 in the country, swept No. 10 Endicott in straight sets.
367 days since they swept Lasell in their final game before being sent home for the semester with the season cancelled, the Pride woke up ready to pick up where they left off.
“I was just happy. I woke up, technically everything was the same, but just the feeling that we were having game day again after a long time it was just a different feeling. Very static, very happy, woke up and it was just all happy,” Johjan Mussa Robles, a graduate student and libero, said.
The game was the same, but the environment different. A long, tedious process of creating the safe environment to play amidst the ongoing pandemic resulted in several new regulations and safety protocols which forced the team to adapt and overcome.
“It was weird. Especially the set up walking into the gym, it’s kind of crazy that we get to play, in my opinion,” junior libero Justin Brosnan said.
I am here (socially distanced, like the “benches”) in Blake Arena just under 40 minutes from the start of No. 1 Springfield College men’s volleyball taking on No. 10 @ECGulls in the first in-person game on campus in over a year.
— Joe Arruda (@joearruda9) March 13, 2021
In any typical year, when the match was coming to a finish, the fans inside Blake Arena, usually dressed in maroon and white, would provide the spark. Now, there was no one.
“It’s different, I thought that affected us a little bit in game three, we usually feed off the crowd here. Playing was enough of a substitute for that, to have an opportunity to play, to keep the adrenaline going, keep the intensity going,” coach Charlie Sullivan said.
The team gives credit to the athletic department and the leadership on campus for the opportunity to play.
“We appreciate all of the leadership that went into making this event possible from our school, our President, our athletic department, there was just a lot of work that had to be done for this to happen to make sure we were as safe as possible and we appreciate all of the support and the work that went into us being able to play today. And we have pride because it’s not been easy on anyone but our guys have stayed positive and they’ve taken advantage of the things they can do rather than focus on the things they couldn’t do,” Sullivan said.
“We really wanted to play for everyone today. We were playing, we were competing versus another school but when I walked in this morning I saw football practicing, I see the wrestlers wrestling and they don’t have any competitions coming up. The gymnastics team’s playing, our women’s volleyball team is having intersquad scrimmages – not everyone had the opportunity we did today so we just wanted to make sure we played and took advantage of every opportunity we had today. We really wanted to play for the campus and all of the athletes that are out there that aren’t able to participate and do what they love right now.”
“It’s amazing to be back and it’s incredible what our athletic department has done to get us to be able to play and come back. It’s just nice to be back in the gym, grinding it out and kind of feeling what it’s like to play volleyball again,” Brosnan added.
The team always strives to play at championship level, and starting out the season with a test against the high powered offense of Endicott provided an opportunity to do so.
Returning just about every player from last season with Mussa Robles taking advantage of his graduate year, Springfield has only added more weapons in the form of three transfers and six first-years.
“We have more weapons,” Sullivan said. “The more weapons you have, the harder you are to stop.”
With 11 total team blocks, largely due to the defensive performance of senior Chris Parker, the Pride was able to stifle the Endicott attack. The team in white and maroon was able to hold the Gulls to a .028 hitting percentage, and create offensive opportunities for itself.
Under the direction of setter Matt Lilley (29 assists), junior Brennen Brandow and sophomore Jarrett Anderson provided the offense with 13 and 9 kills, respectively. Anderson showed off his star talent beyond the service line, swinging for 6 aces.
Jarrett Anderson finishes the sweep for the Pride, 25-23 in the third set. Springfield moves to 1-0 and will head to Endicott for a rematch tomorrow evening. Story/photos to come pic.twitter.com/6D15nVFB4C
— Joe Arruda (@joearruda9) March 13, 2021
“Endicott’s a great team and I think playing them from the start, in our first game of the season after a full year is a pretty crazy, intense task for us. We really don’t take it lightly and this past week we focused on what we needed to do to compete against them and do our best and reach our potential,” Brosnan said.
After the game, a white shirt sporting the team logo was laid on the hardwood floor. With a black sharpie, each member of the team signed the shirt and returned it to the Endicott bench. It was an effort that will be ongoing for each team they play in the shortened season, as a thank you for allowing the Pride to compete in the New England Collegiate Conference.
Typically the men’s volleyball team is not affiliated with a conference, but with the resumption of play schools are resorting to only in-conference schedules. In order for Springfield to fill its schedule, it needed to be adopted in for the regular season. If there is a national tournament the Pride will still be independent.
Still caught up in the surreality that sports have returned, the team will travel to Beverly, Mass. tomorrow for a 1:00 p.m. rematch against the Gulls.
“To be able to supplement and take care of our bodies and repair and make some adjustments it’s going to be a huge task for us, a huge hurdle to get over. We look forward to the challenge, we know it’s going to be really, really hard and we look forward to getting on the bus, getting focused and doing the best we can in Beverly,” Sullivan said.
“They’re going to make some adjustments, it’s going to be a total chess match tomorrow so we’ll see.”
Photos courtesy of Joe Arruda