By Daniela Detore
After losing 2016 Div. III National Player of the Year, Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA tournament, Christian Smith hung up his jersey as a Hawk for good. Closing out his career at SUNY New Paltz with a win over the dynasty of Springfield College, he captured the 2016 National Championship.
The tides have shifted. Luis Vega, the 2017 DIII National Player of the Year entered the final match against rival SUNY New Paltz. The crowd roared as Springfield College walked the sideline to their end line. New Paltz stalking the end-line of their own, turning to face their opponent.
The starting lineup are announced for the Hawks, the unimpressed crowd awaited their home team.
“A senior, from Corozal Puerto Rico. Number five, Luis Vega.” was read by the public address announcer. A sold out crowd packing the stands, and lining the walls of Blake Arena erupted in euphoria.
Luis Vega stepped out on the court for his final performance wearing maroon and white, fighting for the tenth National Championship.
After falling to the Hawks in set one to the SUNY New Paltz Hawks, the familiar feeling of last years National Championship began to sink in for the Pride. Falling in four sets to the Hawks in 2016, Springfield College was setting themselves up for a similar fate.
Anthony Bonilla, hitting a .667 clip in set one and teammate Bradly Schneider who hit .429 aside Bonilla in the first, proved to be lethal for the Pride.
“[New Paltz is] gonna punch us, so we have to be able to punch back,” Vega said after the 25-22 loss in set one.
Set two showed new life early on. Outside weapon Bonilla went up big on the right side where he met the discipline of the National player of the year. A block down and hard off the hands of Vega, was returned to Bonilla at his toes. A game tied at 2, was already in the hands of the Pride.
Bringing about 9 team blocks in the set, the Pride were rolling with the punches. Dominating the net and holding the reigning national champions to a sub zero hitting percentage, they closed out set two 25-22.
Defeated in set two, the Hawks jumped out to a fast start. Springfield barely hanging on in the neck and neck battle. Vega decided a different fate for the conclusion of his volleyball career.
Vega from the back row rose up and split the New Paltz Hawks defenders for a kill. Upon landing he turns to the crowd unable to contain his passion. He sidesteps the side line throwing his hands in the air, demanding raw emotion from the crowd. Vega has just tied the third set of the National Championship at fifteen.
Vega’s name will forever echo throughout the airspace of Blake Arena for years to come. Becoming iconic for the back row attack that teammate Luis Garcia Rubio and Vega have perfected throughout their years.
“This year has been special,” Vega reflects. Coming to Springfield College to play under head coach Charlie Sullivan, he had no idea to what depth he was going to impact that legacy and bring it to new heights.
Leading the country in hitting percentage, leading the No.1 ranked team to the National Championship for four years running. The Pride have turned to Vega in their moments of weakness.
“Its a leap of faith into our process,” head coach Charlie Sullivan said about the Dynasty he created at Springfield College through their mens volleyball program. “The legacy should be that yeah we play good volleyball. But out aspirations are to grow great people and give people the opportunity to learn strategies in life, in this micro-society called volleyball.”
Vega and the Pride took the third set 25-23, there was no questions that he wanted the fourth the same way. Looking to the crowd for life, Vega saw former teammates and current alumni of Springfield College encouraging him to finish what has been started.
One point away from securing the National Championship, freshman Matthew Grace of the New Paltz Hawks stepped behind the service line. Vega, Irizarry Pares and Padilla Ayala await the serve. Fighting for who will finish the game with a kill, the point is given to the Pride – a serve never making it over the net.
Set four went in favor of the Pride 25-21. In a 3-1 victory of New Paltz, Springfield College men’s volleyball return the National title to the rightful owners on their home court in Bake Arena in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Confetti bursted and showeed the new National Champions. Vega embracing all his teammates in appreciation. The most Outstanding Player of the 2017 NCAA tournament hung up his jersey in conclusion to a perfect career, with a flawless finish.
Three time most Outstanding player, three time first team All-American, ECAC Offensive player of the year, two time Sports Import/AVCA National Player of the Week the 2017 ACVA National Player of the year Luis Vega, has nothing left in his final moment as a member of the Springfield College Pride, only tears.
This will not be the last time you hear Vega’s name, look for him in years to come in the professional league of Puerto Rico. Wearing his new color in his home countries 2 white stripes to the three red.