The men’s volleyball team has a chance to win a second-consecutive national championship, but the road will take longer than others.
Despite losing the chance for an automatic bid into the NCAA Div. III Tournament with their United Volleyball Conference (UVC) Tournament finals loss, the Hawks have earned an at-large bid into the tournament.
New Paltz (24-8) will take on Kean University (26-8) on Saturday, April 22, with the winner advancing to the quarterfinals to take on Vassar College.
“We beat Kean during the season,” Hawks head coach Radu Petrus said. “Each game is different and they are a good team. They won [the Skyline] conference and they have home advantage. They have support from their fans and it’ll be an exciting game.
“It’ll be good that we’re going to play them again because we know their gym. Hopefully we’ll be comfortable enough in it to play against them.”
Kean University currently is riding a 12-game winning streak into the matchup. They finished as the top team in the Skyline Conference this season, including an undefeated 9-0 record in conference play.
Both teams squared off earlier in the season, with New Paltz winning by a score of 3-0 (26-24, 29-27, 25-11). It may have seemed like an easy win, but it came down to two tiebreakers that went in New Paltz’s favor to give them the win.
New Paltz finished with a 5-3 record in UVC play during the season, and went 2-1 in the UVC Tournament.
They defeated then-No. 12 Massachusetts Institute of Technology 3-0 (25-22, 25-16, 25-23) in the quarterfinals to advance to the semifinals of the tournament for the fifth consecutive year.
The matchup was highlighted with a 14-kill performance by fourth-year middle co-captain Jake Roessler and a match-high 32 assists from first-year setter Matthew Grace, who now has 1,107 assists on the year.
The Hawks then avenged their March 29 loss to No. 2 Vassar College with a 3-1 (34-32, 25-22, 24-26, 25-18) win over their cross-river rival to advance to the final round against then-No. 9 New York University.
The matchup against Vassar was the first time the Hawks surpassed the 30 point marker in a set since 2015, which also was against Vassar in the regular season.
In the final round, the Hawks got off to a hopeful start, winning the first set 25-20 to gain an advantage over NYU. However, they dropped the next two sets to go down 2-1 in the match.
New Paltz managed to hold on in the fourth set, going on a 4-1 run to win the set 27-25 after being one point away from elimination.
In the fifth set — which is played up to 15 points instead of the usual 25 — NYU stormed to a 12-7 lead and the Hawks were unable to mount a comeback, as they went scoreless en route to NYU’s first-ever conference championship.
“We couldn’t block well against NYU in the finals,” Petrus said. “They dominated with blocks and had better serves than us. That made the difference in the matchup.”
The Hawks were outblocked 10-6 in the finals and had to await the NCAA Tournament selection show on Monday, April 17 to find out if they were. There will be three other UVC teams in this year’s national tournament, Vassar, NYU and No. 7 Stevens Institute of Technology.
“It was emotional for the selection show because we were the last one to be selected for the tournament,” Petrus said. “Personally, I didn’t expect four teams from the [United Volleyball Conference] to go to the tournament. We are back in the game, so hopefully we can do well.”
The matchup against Kean University is scheduled for a 4 p.m. start and will take place in Union, New Jersey.
“We just have to play our game,” Petrus said. “We expect to serve well and help ourselves create better combinations and give our players better situations to get points.”