After defeating Kean University on Saturday, April 22 to advance to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Div. III Tournament, the men’s volleyball team nearly completed an unexpected, yet exciting tournament run.
The Hawks reached the NCAA Div. III Finals after defeating No. 2 Vassar College and No. 5 Wentworth Institute of Technology, but were unable to defeat No. 1 Springfield College to win it all.
Unlike last year’s finals matchup against Springfield, the Hawks (27-9) were not the top-seed heading into this year’s matchup against Springfield (29-2).
However, the Hawks put on immediate pressure to start the game, taking the first set 25-22 after jumping out to a 14-9 lead. Springfield kept the set close, as they got within one to make the score 22-21. A kill by fourth-year co-captain Steven Woessner and an attack error and a service error by Springfield gave New Paltz the edge.
In the second set, the Hawks led in the early stages, 5-2. The Pride rallied and took a 9-7 lead before New Paltz knotted the contest up at 12-12. Trailing 16-14, the Hawks took advantage of three consecutive Pride errors to go ahead 17-16. Tied at 20, Springfield rallied to take the set.
The third set featured a back and forth battle as both teams could not get more than a two point lead until Springfield went up 18-15. The Pride answered by going up 22-19, but kills from second-year outside hitter Bradley Schneider and Woessner brought the score to 23-22, but Springfield took the set and to get to within one set of the championship.
Despite the Hawks having an 11-10 lead during the fourth set, Springfield regained its momentum after a timeout and got up to a 24-19 lead. New Paltz wouldn’t go down without a fight, as they got within three. An error by New Paltz sealed the win for Springfield and gave them their tenth overall championship.
“We expected the game to be close because both teams played three days in a row and you cannot have maximum potential on short rest,” Hawks head coach Radu Petrus said. “We missed a few easy plays at the end of the game and could have added more pressure, because after they beat us in the second set they felt a lot more comfortable.”
Springfield completed their season sweep against New Paltz, going 3-0 against the Hawks. The other two wins came during the regular season on Wednesday, March 1 and Wednesday, April 5.
After splitting their season series against Vassar, the Hawks came out strong and swept the Brewers 3-0 (25-19, 25-15, 25-23) in the quarterfinal round of the NCAA Tournament.
Fourth-year co-captain Jake Roessler exploded on offense for a career-high 26 kills to lead New Paltz to their fourth-consecutive Final Four appearance. His 26 kills are tied for the second-most in a single match along with Chris Wright (1998).
While having a career day, he hit .657 for the match and finished with six digs and two solo blocks. Woessner also had a notable performance, hitting .643 with 10 kills and two aces.
“Our play was more focused,” Petrus said. “I think the team played their best game against Vassar. It was very motivating.”
First-year setter Matthew Grace distributed a match-high 42 assists as the Hawks took the season series 2-1 against their Hudson River rivals on the biggest stage.
Trailing 2-1 with their backs against the wall, the Hawks rallied with a fourth-set win and claimed the fifth set against Wentworth to advance to the team’s second-straight NCAA Div. III Men’s Volleyball National Championship match.
The Hawks enjoyed a 3-2 (25-19, 21-25, 23-25, 25-20, 15-12) win against the Leopards. With the defeat, Wentworth wraps up their season at 26-9 overall. The Leopards were looking for their first ever appearance in the NCAA Finals and made just their second-ever tournament entrance this season.
Woessner floored a match-high 18 kills on 29 attempts to hit .517, and Roessler added 14 more kills after his 26 kill performance against Vassar the previous day.
As of Tuesday, May 2, New Paltz concludes their 2017 campaign ranked No. 2 in the final American Volleyball Coaches Association poll.
The Hawks will be without fourth-years Woessner, Roessler, C.J. Borfitz and Steve Gassert next year due to graduation. In their four years, they led New Paltz to a combined record of 115-21, two United Volleyball Conference (UVC) Championships (2014, 2016) and an NCAA championship (2016).
“We have almost the same team core, so we are good,” Petrus said. “A lot of the guys will be coming with more power and I will probably add no more than three recruits. Next season we will try and do our best to get back to the finals.”