For the second-straight year, the Men’s volleyball team made it to the semifinals of the NCAA Division III Tournament, only to be knocked out in a hard-fought match.
The Hawks won their quarterfinal match against No. 6 Kean University on April 24, by a score of 3-1, (25-16, 18-25, 25-18, 25-17).
Hawks’ third-year co-Captain and First Team All-American setter Christian Smith led the team with 25 assists and finished with 12 kills for a double-double. First-year outside hitter Anthony Bonilla finished with 13 kills and nine digs for the Hawks. Hawks’ third-year First Team All-American middle blocker Christopher Husmann had 10 kills, and fourth-year setter John Lutjen had 21 assists with a match-high four aces. Second-year middle blocker Steven Woessner added crucial kills to spur on the Hawks’ offense in the first set.
Despite trailing in the third set, the Hawks gathered themselves to win the set decisively and gain back momentum in the tensely-played match.
Head Coach Radu Petrus said Kean started to serve harder and play tougher as well as have more motivation than the Hawks. Despite that, the Hawks played to their strategy and kept their discipline to win the match.
Husmann said the game against Kean was enjoyable to play in.
“Many people stepped up and played well and everyone was enjoying themselves on the court,” Husmann said.
In the semifinals match on April 25, the Hawks played host team No. 1 Stevens Institute of Technology, in a rematch of the United Volleyball Conference (UVC) Tournament Finals two weeks earlier. In their third matchup this season, the Hawks lost once again by a score of 3-2, (18-25, 25-23, 23-25, 25-21, 13-15).
The Hawks ended the season with a record of 27-6.
Woessner led the team with 18 kills and also tallied five digs and two aces. Smith finished with a triple-double, accounting for 11 kills, 12 digs and a match-high 28 assists. Third-year co-Captain Kevin Nardone had a match-high 17 digs. Fourth-year setter Misa Garo finished with five assists and ended his career with the fourth-most assists in school history. Lutjen finished just behind Garo in terms of assists at fifth-place all-time in program history.
Husmann said most of the team was devastated because of the poor finish.
“We fought hard, but not hard enough,” Husmann said. “Now we have to look forward to next year and come out stronger and better. The NCAA Tournament is always a great experience whether it is for the new first-years coming in or players that are returning to the tournament. Unfortunately, it did not pan out the way we had hoped. The season overall was great, but it all matters how you finish and we did not finish where we wanted to.”
Petrus said the game was close, but a ball here or there makes a difference, and it ultimately did not work out.
Reflecting on the season as a whole, both players and coaches felt proud of what they had accomplished, despite losing half of last year’s team to graduation.
“It was a great season for us. I’m motivated for next year, and I’m excited to see how this hard work pays off,” Petrus said. “They have to work hard and earn results. We needed some time to accommodate some of our new players to our system. We had to build a team, and make everything come together. From there, we started to win.”
The Hawks ended the year ranked No. 3 in the final American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Division III Men’s Coaches Top 15 Poll, announced on April 28.
Looking to next year and the future, the team is confident in their ability to put together a title run, Woessner said.
“Even though we didn’t reach our goal of a national championship, we fought hard to the very last point and I’m so proud of everyone on the team,” he said. “We expect nothing less than a national championship next year and we are bringing back the weapons capable of doing so.”