The men’s volleyball team enters the 2018 United Volleyball Conference (UVC) tournament as the third seed, taking on Nazareth in the first round on Friday, April 13. The Hawks will look to reach their third consecutive NCAA championship game appearance in this year’s postseason.
“This year, it will be more difficult for us to go to the NCAA tournament,” said head coach Radu Petrus. “We have to win the UVC this weekend. We have experience and that can help.”
Winning the national championship in 2016 and falling to rival Springfield College in the championship game last year, the Hawks know what it takes to make deep, postseason runs. They also have built an impressive resume this season, winning five games against nationally ranked teams.
Nationally ranked at sixth, New Paltz enters a UVC tournament filled with three other ranked teams, No. 4 Stevens Institute of Technology, No. 7 Vassar College, and No. 12 New York University. The Hawks came out with wins earlier in the year against Stevens 3-0 (25-20, 26-24, 25-21) on March 18 and NYU on March 17 3-1(25-21, 25-21, 22-25, 25-17).
New Paltz also found wins against No. 10 University of California Santa Cruz 3-0 (25-23, 25-22, 25-20) and No. 8 8 Dominican 3-1 (24-26, 26-24, 25-17, 25-23) on March 4, as well as a win against the No. 14 at the time Massachusetts Institute of Technology 3-0 (25-21, 25-19, 26-24) on March 25.
“Our schedule this year was probably the toughest we’ve had in my four years,” fourth-year middle blocker and outside hitter Ryan Cole said. “We just have to focus on us, and not think about who is on the other side of the net.”
One concern for the Hawks going into this postseason is their three losses to reigning national champion Springfield in the regular season. Although losing to the Pride 0-3 (19-25, 10-25, 22-25) on Feb. 10, 1-3 (20-25, 19-25, 25-20, 25-17) on March 8 and 1-3 (20-25, 26-24, 24-26, 22-25) on March 31, New Paltz has been able to improve their play in each matchup against the number one team in the nation.
“Our coaches know what to expect from Springfield and prepare us well through practice,” said fourth-year setter Mitchell Kennedy. “If we get a chance to see them again this year, I think the outcome will be in our favor. It’s tough to beat a good team multiple times in a row.”
New Paltz has been successful against first round opponent Nazareth in the past, winning 3-1 (25-14, 18-25, 25-23, 25-20) in their lone matchup this year on March 11. This years graduating seniors have gone undefeated against Nazareth in their four years as Hawks.
“It is a difficult match, and hopefully we can find a way to win again,” Petrus said. “Past victories against top-ranked teams have helped us be mentally prepared for this tournament.”
Kennedy acknowledges what his team needs to do to make another championship run this season.
“Nothing is given to us this time of year, so now is the time to unite and make that final push,” Kennedy said. “Our skill set is there, it’s all mental now.”