The men’s volleyball team is off to a 6-2 start, as they have won five consecutive games after splitting four games on their Puerto Rico trip that took place on Thursday, Jan. 14 through Saturday, Jan. 16.
As of Tuesday, Feb. 2, the Hawks maintained the No. 2 spot in the week two edition of the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Division III Men’s Coaches Top 15 Week Poll after earning 240 points; falling just short of first-place Springfield College.
The two wins in Puerto Rico came in their season opener against University of Puerto Rico-Bayamon on Thursday, Jan. 14 and University of Puerto Rico-Carolina on Saturday, Jan. 16, both of which were 3-0 wins.
Hawks fourth-year co-captain Christian Smith said that even though the team did not get off to the ideal start they desired, it was a good test for the team as they go about their season.
“[Puerto Rico] was a great experience for this team because we were able to play the best competition and really learn about where we are as a team and where we need to be,” Smith said. “We learned that it’s going to take more than us just showing up to play in order to be successful this year and that we can’t take any teams lightly.”
The Hawks also swept the 2016 Granite Challenge tournament hosted by Rivier College from Friday, Jan. 22 to Saturday, Jan 23. In the process, New Paltz recorded wins over Daniel Webster College, Rivier College and Mount Ida College to give Hawks 10th-year Head Coach, Radu Petrus, his 200th career coaching win.
Although Petrus achieved a big milestone in his career, it does not change the fact that he wants his team to have a successful season.
“We expect to win,” Petrus said. “I think we have good physical abilities and a good roster size and the bench can probably help us. The more competitive situations our team faces, the better we will perform as the season progresses.”
Throughout Petrus’ tenure, he has guided his team to a United Volleyball Conference (UVC) Championship in 2014 and has qualified for the NCAA Tournament in 2014 and 2015. In his career, he has twice had a student-athlete named the AVCA NCAA Division III Newcomer of the Year, and he has had three different student-athletes combine for five All-America honors. Petrus has placed 15 student-athletes on All-Conference teams and has coached a conference Rookie of the Year on four occasions. In addition, three of his student-athletes have been tabbed as All-UVC Honorable Mention honorees.
Smith also achieved a milestone in the Granite Challenge, notching his 2,000th career assist. This is the fourth highest mark in school history. He said the team’s success in all areas has contributed to him reaching this milestone.
“I think we have served well so far and our passing has been very good these first couple of games,” Smith said. “Our game relies on serve and serve receive in order to be successful. Our blocking has also been better this year which has helped our overall defense and allowed us to score more points on our serve.”
Other notable performers include second-year outside hitter Anthony Bonilla and fourth-year co-captain Kevin Nardone. Both put up nine digs apiece, while Bonilla also added 12 kills in the 3-1 win against Rivier.
In the game against Mount Ida College, the Hawks dominated all three sets to grab their second win of the day. Third-year opposite Joe Norman paced the Hawks with nine kills, three services aces, three blocks and four digs to finish with a .750 hitting percentage. Second-year setter Mitchell Kennedy recorded 23 assists for New Paltz.
In their most recent game, New Paltz defeated Div. I Sacred Heart University 3-0 for the first time in school history after falling just short of a win last season.
Hawks fourth-year outside hitter, Andy Fishman recorded a career-high five service aces in the win. The Pioneers fought hard to tie the game, but came up short as third-year middle blocker Steven Woessner secured New Paltz the set win and the match victory with a kill. This win not only increased the team’s win streak to five games, but also boosted the confidence of the players.
“We are starting to gel more and more as a team,” Smith said. “This was another great accomplishment because Sacred Heart is a Div. I team and New Paltz had never beaten them in a regular season match. The win helped our confidence greatly in terms of knowing we could play with any team especially when we play our game.”
The Hawks are next scheduled to play their home-opener against SUNY Polytechnic Institute on Friday, Feb. 5.
Petrus said this is a change for the team but believes it will give “all of the players a chance to play,” and it will also give their new addition, Norman more experience. Norman is a transfer student that can bolster the team’s dynamic offense with his physical power, he said.
“Norman just transferred here and hopefully in the end he could help the team significantly,” Petrus said. “He has good movement on the court and great potential. Once he gets familiar with his surroundings, he will add more physical power to our team.”
Although the team has gotten off to a solid start, Smith believes the team has many challenges to face but they are looking forward to gaining momentum from their home-opener before their next few games.
“We are having a good week of practice so far and want to continue building and keep getting better everyday,” Smith said. “It’s been a long time coming for us. We have been looking forward to Friday night for a while now and hopefully we can put on a good show for the crowd.”