The men’s volleyball team finished up their regular season schedule with senior night on Tuesday, April 3, with a 3-1 (25-21, 23-25, 25-21, 25-19) win over Milwaukee School of Engineering. The Hawks end the year at 18-7, entering the United Volleyball Conference (UVC) tournament as the third seed.
Ranked eighth in the latest NCAA American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) coaches poll, New Paltz added to their impressive 7-1 home record with the win against the MSOE Raiders. The 3-1 victory comes after the third loss of the season to No. 1 Springfield College on Saturday March 31 1-3 (20-25, 26-24, 24-26, 28-26), and a 3-0 win (25-16, 25-14, 28-26) against Baruch College on Thursday March 29.
“I think we have played well against the top ranked Division III teams like Springfield; however, I feel we still have not reached our potential,” said head coach Radu Petrus. “We usually improve on the court gradually game by game, and get better towards the end of each season.”
In a seesaw first set with MSOE, second-year middle blocker Nick O’Malley put the Hawks on top in the match first with two kills towards the end of the set to make it 25-21 New Paltz. Falling 17-11 in the second set, the Hawks fought back to make it 20-21 from a kill by O’Malley and two blocks by third-year setter and outside hitter Bradley Schneider. New Paltz dropped the set after a kill by Raiders second-year middle blocker Spencer Mueller made it 25-23 in a tight finish.
In another back and forth third set, The Hawks were able to take their biggest lead with a four point series that included two kills from fourth-year middle blocker and outside hitter Ryan Cole, a kill by fourth-year outside hitter Ben Cohen, and a kill by Schneider to make it 20-14. New Paltz never looked back, with two more kills from Cohen finishing off the set 25-21 and giving the Hawks a 2-1 advantage.
New Paltz came out hot in the fourth set, jumping out to an early 4-0 advantage. After MSOE came back to make it 14-13 Raiders, the Hawks answered with seven unanswered points, never giving up the lead again and winning the match 3-1.
Cohen led the Hawks offensive efforts with 18 kills, while Cole and O’Malley had 15 and seven, respectively. Fourth-year setter Mitchell Kennedy served up 39 assists, while fourth-year middle blocker Nick Denoncourt had four blocks.
The Hawks celebrated the graduation of seven seniors on senior night, each of whom were part of a 2015 NCAA tournament semifinal finish, a 2016 national championship and runner-ups in the national championship game last year.
“Throughout our careers, we’ve made some valuable memories and have impacted the continued success of the program,” Denoncourt said. “The biggest thing for us was to pass down the mentality that was passed to us. It’s important to keep the traditions going.”
Although losing to Springfield prior to Tuesday, New Paltz improved their scores on Saturday’s matchup compared to earlier matches this year on Feb. 10, 0-3 (19-25, 10-25, 22-25) and March 8, 1-3 (20-25, 19-25, 25-20, 17-25).
New Paltz came ready to play against the Pride, gaining an early 3-0 lead in the first set with kills from Denoncourt and third-year setter and opposite Nick Smith. Springfield would answer with six unanswered points to make it 7-4, however the Hawks tied the set back even at 14. Springfield never gave up their lead after making it 15-14, and went on top first 1-0 with the 25-20 set victory.
In an even second set, three consecutive points from kills by Schneider, O’Malley, and Cohen put New Paltz up top 24-22. After the Pride tied the set at 24, Smith and Cohen came up with two more kills to make the match even and give the Hawks the set 26-24.
After the Hawks came out with another 3-0 lead in the third, it was another back and forth set till the end. Three unanswered kills at the end by fourth-year middle blocker Joseth Irizarry Feliciano, fourth-year outside hitter Ricardo Padilla Ayala and fourth-year outside hitter Sergio Figueroa Velez would Springfield the set 26-24.
In a fourth set in which the Hawks never fell behind more than four points, Springfield took the set 25-22 and the match. The No. 1 ranked Pride who beat New Paltz in the national championship last year are 25-1 this season, with their only loss coming in their first game to Concordia Irvine.
“(Springfield) has been our rival since I arrived here as a freshman, and I can speak for the whole team in that none of us are content until we beat them,” Cohen said. “We’re looking forward to the opportunity to meet them once again in the NCAA Championship to reclaim the title.”
New Paltz also took a 3-0 victory over at Baruch in New York City last Thursday. In a match that was all Hawks, Smith tallied nine kills, while Cole and Schneider had eight and seven each, respectively. Second-year setter Matthew Grace led the Hawks in assists with 23, while O’Malley racked up five blocks in the win.
New Paltz will look to make another NCAA tournament run this year when they face off in the UVC tournament on April 13, 14 and 15 at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey.
“With the first two seeds getting a bye, we are not in an ideal position being third,” Petrus said. “In the UVC Tournament, nothing is guaranteed. We will do our best.”
Cohen ensures his team is ready for the challenge.
“It’s April volleyball,” Cohen said. “It requires a fire, passion, and chemistry of which this team has developed over the season. If our team is in system, there isn’t a team in the nation that can stop our offensive threat.”