By Shawn McFarland
Underneath the cover of confetti, the embrace of his friends, families and teammates, Luis “Ricky” Vega had it all.
The AVCA Division III National Player of the Year, a three-time Most Outstanding Player of the Championship and most importantly, a three-time national champion, Vega had done and seen it all.
All he had left was tears.
The senior put his sweat-drenched face into his exhausted hands. Just minutes removed from a 17-kill performance in a 3-1 National Championship win over New Paltz, the heroic Vega fell into the arms of friends and strangers who rushed the Blake Arena court.
All that could be heard were cheers. The screams of men’s volleyball players and fans nearly drowned out the playing of “Wagon Wheel,” over the arena public address system. But there was the Most Outstanding Player, frozen with emotion amidst of sea of celebration. He dropped to his knees after leaving his entirety out on the court.
Along with Vega, seniors Luis Garcia Rubio, Sean Zuvich, Trevor Mattson, Sean Ermi and Jason Weeden ended their collegiate volleyball careers on top of the nation.
“This group was a little different group,” head coach Charlie Sullivan noted of his seniors. “We took our team and made it half from Puerto Rico and half from California. We took all these rivalries and put them together emotionally. But that’s what made this team so special. We had a really unique salad.”
Each player left a unique mark. Vega walks away after completing one of the most decorated seasons in recent history: accolades aside, Vega recorded a team-high 372 kills at a 4.28 kills per set pace, good for fifth in the nation.
Garcia Rubio’s senior season saw him record a team-high 994 assists. He finished seventh all-time in school history in assist percentage (.510) and ninth in assists per-set (8.0).
Zuvich was the emotional leader. Whether it was an opposing team’s service error to put the Pride up 1-0 in the first set of a regular season game, or a championship clinching service error from New Paltz’ Matthew Grace, Zuvich reacted the same way every single time: fists flying with a loud emphatic scream as he embraced his teammates with his arms wide open.
Like Zuvich, Ermi was always quick to show support. When not on the court, Ermi patrolled the sidelines like a coach, strutting back in forth in front of the bench with a towels draped around his neck as he barked out a combination of commands, adjustments and appreciative words to his teammates.
Mattson ended his career with a 142-kill season, 15 of which came against Wentworth in February, a team that made it all the way to the national semi-finals. Weedon ended his career with 130 career kills.
“I think that there’s not going to be a day moving forward that we don’t think ‘This is what this guy would have done,’ or ‘This is how [Garcia Rubio] would’ve set the middle.’ And I think that’s going to be a huge influence going forward,” sophomore Kyle Jasuta said.
Charlie Sullivan summed up his seniors simply. “They’re really good,” he laughed. “And that’s going to be hard to replace.”
While Sullivan and the rest of the roster are tasked with the difficult goal of replacing this year’s senior core, the graduating players have the ability to look back fondly on their years in maroon, and unlike many player across the country, were able to end their collegiate careers surrounded by confetti and trophies.
“It’s just been so special to me to be a part of this program,” Vega said. “I would never regret my decision to come here. It was just great, and I have done a lot as a student-athlete. I’m very prepared for us going on after this.”
Garcia Rubio deflected any praise towards himself towards Sullivan.
“He prepared us for this moment,” Garcia Rubio said in regards to the championship. “I’ve got to thank him, and all of the guys from this program.”
With a week and change left of being a student at Springfield College, Garcia Rubio remarked that the key to beating the last few days on Alden Street will be in having a championship-winning mindset.
“Two more days of school, then we’ve got finals coming,” Garcia Rubio laughed. “We’ve got to finish strong as we did today in school too.”