The No. 1 men’s volleyball team has advanced to the 2016 NCAA Div. III Tournament after defeating second-seeded and No. 4 Stevens Institute of Technology for the United Volleyball Conference (UVC) Championship in the Hawk Center.
For the second time in program history, the Hawks earned the UVC Title. They swept the Ducks 3-0 (25-14, 25-23, 25-20) on Sunday, April 10, increasing their overall record to 30-2.
This was their first 30-win season since 1987 and fifth, overall.
Hawks head coach Radu Petrus said the weekend featured great competition.
“It was nice to win in three sets, which was better than four or five,” he said. “Our players were motivated to play well. Our fans helped us keep the excitement. They enjoyed each point.”
Hawks fourth-year co-captain Christian Smith the 2016 UVC Player of the Year, added to his haul of postseason awards by earning UVC Tournament MVP honor.
Fourth-year outside hitter Andy Fishman and fourth-year co-captain Kevin Nardone joined Smith on the All-Tournament Team. Nardone defended a match-high and season-high-tying 15 digs in the victory.
The Hawks, who have yet to lose to an NCAA Div. III team this season, became just the fifth team in program history to reach the 30-win plateau, as New Paltz won at least 30 matches from 1984-87.
Hawks second-year outside hitter Anthony Bonilla completed the double-double with 12 kills and digs, respectively. Smith dished out 32 assists.
Stevens was limited to a season-low .075 hitting percentage (27-19-106).
To get to the finals, the Hawks also swept fourth-seeded No. 9 Nazareth College 3-0 (25-22, 25-22, 25-21) in the semifinals the day before.
The teams kept the score close in the start of the opening set. The Golden Flyers held a slight 10-9 edge, but the Hawks collected three consecutive points off Nazareth’s errors to regain the advantage.
After falling behind, 15-13, two Nazareth attack errors and a pair of kills by fourth-year middle blocker Christopher Husmann put New Paltz ahead once again, but the Golden Flyers followed up with a kill to tie the score at 17-all. Both teams traded points in the second set to level the tally to 21-all before New Paltz pushed a 4-1 burst to close the set with a 25-22 win.
Similar to the first set, the teams traded points until a Golden Flyers’ attack error and kills by both third-year middle blocker and opposite Jake Roessler and Fishman put the Hawks up, 16-13. However, Nazareth rallied with three consecutive points to even the score. It was a back-and-forth battle until the end of the middle frame, but New Paltz would jump ahead 24-21 on a kill by Fishman, before Woessner floored the set-winning kill to lead, 2-0, heading into the third frame.
The final set saw a close score. New Paltz ultimately took an 18-15 advantage with three unanswered points and forced the Golden Flyers to take a timeout. Coming out of the break, Nazareth tried to catch the Hawks, slicing the deficit to 22-21, but would not be able to get further as New Paltz recorded the three points it needed.
Individually, Husmann hit .769 (10-0-13), floored 10 kills and added one block assist. Third-year middle blocker Steven Woessner also recorded 10 kills and hit .692 (10-1-13) for the match. Smith tallied a match-high 36 assists, six digs and two blocks (one assist, one solo) for the match.
It was announced on Monday, April 18 that five members of the Hawks team have earned 2016 American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Div. III All-America honors.
Fishman, Husmann, Smith and Woessner were all named to the AVCA All-America First Team, while Nardone was named AVCA Honorable Mention All-America.
More honors were revealed on April 20 when Petrus was selected as the 2016 American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Div. III Men’s National Coach of the Year. Assistant coach Tony Bonilla was named the 2016 AVCA Div. III Men’s National Assistant Coach of the Year.
The Hawks will be making their third straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament. New Paltz, whose other UVC title came in 2014, have advanced to the semifinal round of the NCAA Tournament in each of its previous two appearances. They will next take on No. 15 Wentworth Institute of Technology in the quarterfinal round of the NCAA Div. III Tournament on Friday, April 22 at 12:30 p.m. at Nazareth College in Rochester.
Last season, the Hawks fell to Stevens in the semifinals of the 2015 NCAA Div. III Tournament 3-2 (18-25, 25-23, 23-25, 25-21, 13-15).
To prepare for this year’s first-round matchup, Smith said the team has had competitive and productive practices during the last two weeks. This included working on minor details to their game and playing a lot of six-on-six in order to stay in rhythm, he said.
“We are going to do our best to represent New Paltz up at the NCAA Tournament and hopefully bring home a national championship trophy,” Smith said. “There’s only one SUNY New Paltz.”