The Men’s Volleyball team tarnished Nazareth College’s perfect record as the Hawks beat the Golden Flyers in three sets on March 30.
The team beat all four schools at the Vassar Tournament, capturing the tournament title. Currently ranked fifth in the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Poll and third heading into the UVC Championship Tournament, Head Coach Radu Petrus said camaraderie has propelled this team to success.
“One of the big reasons why the Hawks volleyball team is so successful this season is team chemistry, they really enjoy playing together,” Petrus said. “At the same time they are very competitive, working very hard in practice. We have players with many strengths in different areas of the game.”
Second-year John Lutjen posted 19 assists, 10 blocks and nine digs during the match and was named to the All-Tournament Team after his performance. He said he was happy to break Nazareth’s perfect record and attributes the team’s previous loss to the Golden Flyers as motivation to win.
“It was a tremendous feeling to hand Nazareth their first loss and to ruin their perfect season,” Lutjen said. “It amazes me that we made a team that was 31-0 go to 31-1 this far in the season. When we played Nazareth last weekend we were all in the zone, focused to play because we felt that we should have beaten them earlier in the season when we played here at New Paltz.”
Lutjen said he knew from the beginning of the season that the team would be successful because each player displayed extreme dedication to the sport. During free time, most players are at the gym “working to get better,” he said.
Third-year Co-captain Brian Smith boasted a .667 hitting percentage and had 12 kills and five digs to contribute to the victory.
He said the duo of Petrus and Assistant Coach Tony Bonilla have been keys to the team’s winning season.
“Coach Petrus has gotten us physically prepared for every opponent we’ve faced,” Smith said. “Coach Bonilla always has a game plan that if we follow it, there is no reason that we cannot beat every team we face. The combination of the two coaches has definitely given us a winning formula.”
The Hawks end regular season play with a 26-5 overall record, winning 11 straight games before they head to the UVC Championship Tournament. Petrus said “focus, consistency and effort” are the three factors the team must channel to make a strong run in the challenging tournament, where any team can win.
“UVC is one of the toughest conferences in Division III,” Petrus said. “You really cannot predict the winner of the tournament.”
Smith said when the team plays together and sticks to a game plan, they are difficult to beat. The team expects to win the UVC Championship Tournament if they play their style of volleyball and also aspire to make a run at the NCAA Tournament, he said.
“Our team goals are to win our conference tournament and get a bid to the NCAA tournament,” Smith said. “[A] long term goal if we accomplish those goals is to win a National Championship. A banner and a ring would be a great way to end the season.”
Lutjen said taking each game one at a time is an important tactic to catapult the team further. Winning the tournament would be a “vast sum of accomplishments,” especially because the team is so young, he said. Overall, he wants the team’s efforts to pay off.
“We want teams to give us the respect we deserve and to put all of our hard work on and off the court to pay off in the end,” Lutjen said.
Petrus doesn’t have any one player who he will look to for major contributions during the tournament, he said. He also said he believes that every player, on and off the bench, is an essential component of the team.
“I feel that each member of the team wants success and understands their role for the team’s success,” Petrus said. “It is important that those on the bench understand that those on the court could not be successful without them.”
The Hawks will look to win it all at the Championship Tournament, which will take place in Rochester, N.Y. at Nazareth College on Saturday, April 13 and Sunday, April 14.