The men’s volleyball team’s season came to an end on Saturday, April 14 after losing in the semifinals of the United Volleyball Conference (UVC) tournament 1-3 (20-25, 26-24, 21-25, 19-25) to Vassar College. The loss marks New Paltz’s first season without an NCAA tournament bid since 2013.
“Due to injuries at the start of the season, we could not find the best lineup in time for our team, and as a result, lost our chance to be at the NCAA tournament this year,” said head coach Radu Petrus. “We all have learned a lot this year, including myself.”
Finishing the year 19-8, the Hawks took care of business in the opening round against Nazareth College, sweeping the Golden Flyers 3-0 (25-19, 25-23, 25-21).
Although a tight first set, New Paltz never gave up the lead after taking an early 3-2 advantage. An unanswered four-point streak by the Hawks proved to be the difference maker, as two kills from third-year setter and opposite Nick Smith, a kill from fourth-year middle blocker and outside hitter Ryan Cole and a attack error put New Paltz up top 22-16, leading them to the 25-19 set win.
After the Hawks went up 3-0 to begin the second set, Nazareth took their first advantage after a kill from fourth-year outside hitter Sam Bittker put them up 10-9. In a back-and-forth set filled with seven lead changes, New Paltz found momentum from another four unanswered point streak courtesy of a service error, two blocks by fourth-year middle blocker Nick Denoncourt, and a kill by third-year setter and outside hitter Bradley Schneider to give them the lead at 23-21. A kill by second-year middle blocker Tevin Skeete and another by Schneider sealed the set for the Hawks, winning 25-23.
Another back-and-forth set, New Paltz turned up the heat after a kill by Nazareth’s third-year outside hitter Zachary Gillard tied it at 14. A service error and kills by Denoncourt and Smith put the Hawks up top 17-14, and although Bittker stopped the bleeding with a kill of his own, New Paltz responded with three more unanswered points to put them up 20-15. The Hawks never looked back, taking the set 25-21 and the match.
Cole and Smith led the offense for the Hawks, tallying 13 and 11 kills each, respectively. Second-year setter Matthew Grace also racked up 33 assists for New Paltz. New Paltz has not lost to Nazareth since a regular season matchup in 2013.
The Hawks could not continue their winning ways into the next day of the UVC tournament, losing to Vassar 1-3.
In a close first set, a kill by second-year outside hitter Aaron Carrk kept New Paltz within two, putting the score at 20-22. The Brewers answered with kills by fourth-year middle hitter Matthew Knigge and second-year librero Kevin Ros, as well as an attack error to win the set 25-20.
Down 17-19 in the second set, New Paltz went on a four point streak to put them up 21-19. Vassar would tie the game back at 24; however, a service and attack error proved costly, giving New Paltz the set 26-24.
Falling behind late again in the third set, the Hawks amounted another four unanswered point streak to bring them within three at 19-22. Vassar proved to be too much, however, stopping New Paltz’s momentum and winning the set 25-21.
The Hawks were able to gain a late lead in the fourth set, up top 17-16. From that moment on, it was all Vassar. The Brewers scored five unanswered points to take the lead back 21-17, and would go on to win the set 25-19 and the match.
The loss knocked New Paltz out of the UVC tournament, and left their fate in the hands of the NCAA Committee in hopes of receiving an at-large bid to the national tournament.
“It’s very upsetting to see that two teams we beat this year are still going and have a shot at the championship,” Schneider said. “This year was not as we all had hoped it would be, but I am confident that through hard work and dedication, next year we will find ourselves in competition for a title once again.”
New Paltz will be graduating seven seniors this year, all of whom were a part of their 2016 national championship run.
Although not the ending they would have hoped for, Cole is thankful for the time he’s had as a Hawk.
“Personally, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to go out,” Cole said. “This team has a great mindset and will use this last season as a learning experience. I’m excited to see what they do.”