The New Paltz men’s volleyball team will be moving on to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Div. III tournament with a victory over Kean University on Saturday, April 22, improving to 25-8 on the season.
Away in Union, New Jersey, New Paltz came away with a close 3-2 victory (25-21, 20-25, 25-19, 25-27, 15-13) in a seesaw affair.
Hawks fourth-year co-captain Steve Woessner said that at times throughout the match, the team felt down on themselves, but stayed strong mentally which proved to be a big factor in the victory.
“[Kean] came out of the gates hot,” Woessner said. “I’ve never seen them serve as tough as they did on Saturday.
“They hadn’t lost in 12 matches, but we served tough back and remained positive.”
Third-year outside hitter Anthony Bonilla racked up an impressive 17 kills, while also chipping in two service aces, two blocks and two assists.
Woessner was right behind Bonilla, registering 11 kills, four service aces, four blocks and five digs.
Fourth-year co-captain Jake Roessler logged 10 kills of his own, with four blocks and five digs.
First-year setter Matthew Grace led the charge offensively with 45 assists, while first-year libero Robert Nolan accumulated 10 digs.
New Paltz overpowered Kean in overall kills (51-39), service aces (13-11), assists (49-36), digs (30-21) and attack percentage (.250/.217).
The Hawks were victorious in the first and third sets and it looked as though they were en route to victory in the fourth, but after being up 10-5 and then 13-8, Kean battled back to eventually take the set 27-25.
Kean experienced a few consecutive mishaps which led New Paltz to a slim 15-13 victory in the fifth set to end Kean’s season.
Roessler said that if the team sticks to its strategy, they can return to the NCAA Div. III Finals.
“We are a team that has faced adversity all season,” Roessler said. “We were written off from the start because people thought that all of our talent graduated last year.
“We have some serious talent and potential on this team especially within the younger guys. I am excited to see what this weekend brings.”
On Monday, April 24 it was announced that Woessner and Bonilla were named 2017 American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) All-Americans, with Woessner receiving First Team honors and Bonilla taking home Second Team honors.
The next step for New Paltz is facing cross-river rival Vassar College in the quarterfinals on Friday, April 28 in Springfield, Massachusetts.
This will be the third time this season that New Paltz will face Vassar, as they possess a 1-1 record against them.
On March 29 at home for Senior Night, New Paltz lost to the Brewers 3-2 (25-20, 25-22, 16-25, 13-25, 15-17) but bounced back to knock them out of the UVC tournament during the semifinals on Friday, April 14 3-1 (34-32, 25-22, 24-26, 25-18).
The next match against them will be a tough one and a test for both of the teams, Hawks head coach Radu Petrus said.
“The main thing is that we have to push [Vassar] out of system,” Petrus said. “We need to get them to not use their middle blocker. The last few games, we have given teams three or four points as gifts so we need to tighten up.”
Petrus added that the team has great potential and against Vassar it will have to come from all aspects of the team, including the bench guys.
“[Nick] Denoncourt helped greatly against Kean which was great because sometimes the bench guys are the ones who help you win,” Petrus said. “This is a very good group that works like a team and support each other on and off the court.”
Woessner added that he hopes to see the team hoist the trophy on Sunday as New Paltz looks to repeat as NCAA Div. III champions.
“We need to focus and have a positive mental attitude,” Woessner said. “But these young guys have bought into our winning tradition and have gained valuable experience which is what our program is all about.”