Hawks Produce Memorable Run, Win National Championship

The men's volleyball team is beginning to build a powerhouse program, winning its second National Championship in the past four years. (Photo courtesy of Larry Lavanti)

New Paltz, your men’s volleyball team is now NCAA Division III National Champions for the second time in four years. 

After falling short in the United Volleyball Conference (UVC) semifinal last season, the Hawks came into 2019 strong and dominated their schedule, going 8-1 in conference play with an overall record of 28-7. 

“We had a difficult time during the season and had to replace players due to injury, illness or sickness,” said Hawks Coach Radu Petrus. “The freshmen provided great play and had great contributions to our success. Towards the end of the season all team members were back on the court and played their role to win the title.”

After a clean 3-0 sweep of Baruch College in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on April 19, the Hawks faced the toughest task of their championship run in a clash with the Endicott College Gulls in the quarterfinals the next day, April 20. 

Set one was back and forth early. With the score 13-12 Hawks, a 7-3 run highlighted by a pair of kills by third-year outside hitter Aaron Carrk pushed them ahead 20-15. A subsequent 4-0 Gulls run closed the gap to 20-19, however that would be as close as they would get as two points by the Hawks on kills by fourth-year outside hitters Bradley Schneider and Nick Smith would be answered by the Gulls, but not before the Hawks closed it out with three straight kills to win the set 25-21. 

New Paltz dropped the second and the third set by scores of 25-22 and 25-18 to fall behind 2-1 in the match. 

The fourth set was a nail-biter. Right out of the gate, New Paltz put together an impressive 12-5 run to take an early 14-10 lead. After trading points for much of the set to stay ahead, a kill by Carrk at 24-22 sealed the set and evened the match at two apiece heading into the fifth set. 

It didn’t look good for the Hawks early in the fifth set, quickly falling behind 8-2. However, a timeout at 10-4 by coach Petrus seemed to be the spark the Hawks needed, immediately answering with a 9-3 run highlighted by three kills by third-year middle blocker Nick O’Malley to even the score at 13. After trading the next four points to make it 17-17, a service error and kill by Smith closed out an impressive comeback for New Paltz. 

After six days of rest, the Hawks were back at it for the semifinals against No. 1 ranked Springfield College. After a back and forth first set that saw the Hawks come up just short 25-23, the Hawks took flight, and controlled the match from there on out. 

The Hawks only trailed three times in the second set, each time by just a point. At 13-12 Springfield, a 9-2 Hawks run that included five Springfield errors seemingly won the Hawks the set, pushing the score to 21-15. They would win the set 25-21 to even the match. 

New Paltz breezed through the third, easily handling Springfield 25-16, sending them to the fourth set with a chance for an NCAA Final birth. 

Although close throughout, New Paltz never trailed in the fourth set. A 6-2 run to close the deficit to 15-14 was the closest Springfield would get as the Hawks would not surrender the lead. Holding on by the skin of their teeth at 20-19, a 5-3 run on three Carrk kills and a pair of O’Malley kills propelled our Hawks back to the NCAA Championship for the first time since their championship run in 2016. 

The following day, the Hawks took back to the court where they faced off against the University of California, Santa Cruz in the NCAA Championship game. 

Once again, the Hawks dropped a close first set, 25-23, before kicking it into full gear. 

New Paltz came out with a bang in the second, building a 10-4 lead to force a Santa Cruz timeout. The Hawks traded points for most of the set, but the early deficit proved too much for the Slugs as New Paltz maintained their lead throughout. Never trailing, the Hawks came out victorious 25-18 to even the match at one a pop. 

After going down 1-0 to start the third set, the Hawks would not trail again. An immediate 6-1 response put the Hawks up 6-2 and in front for good. An attack error by O’Malley closed the gap to 11-9, but that would be the closest Santa Cruz would get. The Hawks would go on to score seven of the next eight points to build their lead to eight, virtually sealing the set. In the end, New Paltz found victory, 25-17. 

Up 2-1 in the match, one win away from a NCAA title, the Hawks chose the perfect time to play their best set of the match. 

With the score tied at eight apiece, New Paltz was able to muster their most impressive point streak of the match, a 14-4 run which included a 6-point streak thanks to four Slug attacking errors. 

At 23-15, victory was all but inevitable for the Hawks. A service error, followed by a Smith kill would be all she wrote as New Paltz swarmed the court of Kean University celebrating yet another NCAA Championship. 

“We were all just ready to play our hearts out heading into this championship,” Carrk said. “19 strong, we knew if we played our game we couldn’t be stopped and the seniors knew that too. Nicky [Smith] and Brad [Schneider] knew what we were destined for this season and their play helped us immensely when it came to game time.”

Carrk was named NCAA Tournament MVP for his game and career-high 19 kills. He also added four blocks and three digs. 

New Paltz will be graduating two seniors in Smith and Schneider. 

A member of the 2016 championship team, Smith finishes his career in orange and blue a two-time National Champion. He racked up 532 kills and 176 assists in his four years as a Hawk. 

After transferring from Medaille College following his successful freshman season, Schneider finishes his three years as a Hawk with 513 kills and 34 assists. 

“I’m most proud of our team’s ability to bounce back after failure,” Schneider said. “We had some bad losses this year but that did not stop us from working hard to achieve our goal of a National Championship. Everyone came together and this team was able to shock the world.” 

Congratulations to your very own New Paltz Hawks on yet another exciting championship run. Until next year!