At the first ever United Volleyball Conference (UVC) championships this past month, the No. 15 seed New Paltz Men’s Volleyball team made it to the final against the No. 2 seed Nazareth College.
The team defeated the No. 9 seed Medaille College and No.12 Stevens Institute of Technology to get there. Not many could have seen this for New Paltz, with the exception of one.
“No, I’m not surprised,” said Men’s Head Coach Radu Petrus. “I’m not surprised because the students were great in practice and they had a lot of improvement. It was my expectation for them to have gotten so far.”
While the team fell in the final 3-2, the team looks upon their time in 2011 as an “entertaining season right from the start.” The team went 20-13 this winter while going 3-6 in conference play. Their season started with some unexpected new additions that made impacts on arrival.
“We had Jakub, an exchange student from Prague, join our team and he became a starter in no time,” said third-year co-captain Kevin Stross. “We also had Keith MacDonald, a retired Division I swimmer, join our team as well for just this season and they made up our very critical ‘outside hitters.’”
Petrus had nothing but praise for his players. Petrus said the team worked “incredibly hard” throughout the season and especially in the last couple of practices that were held before the UVC championships.
“All of the team was amazing,” said Petrus. “Mike Van Tyne and Kevin Stross, our captains, did a really good job. The setters were great for us and that’s because our setters like Andrew [Cassius] put our hitters in a really good position.”
The team went into the UVC championships with a two-game winning streak and had beaten No.7 seed Philadelphia Biblical right before. Memebers of th team said the win against a higher-seeded team gave the team the confidence to go into the championships and do great things.
“We all had the confidence, and the proof that we can be a top team. So going into the tournament we shot for greatness, and fell just short,” said Stross.
Stross said that he attributes the team’s success during the championships to the practices that Petrus held before the tournament took place.
“We weren’t playing well and after the practice, we all had the urge to play better, and that we did,” said Stross. “Coach Radu told us going into the tournament that we would need to do three things to ensure victory. They were serve, block, celebrate. He told us to take chances with our serves and try to make aces.”
After the UVC tournament, the team made it to the North East Collegiate Volleyball Association (NECVA) Championship where they faced Stevens in the quarterfinal round. This, according to both Petrus and Stross, put a tremendous amount of pressure on the team, since they had already beaten Stevens during the UVC tournament just a few short days before.
“There was pressure because we had beat Stevens on Saturday, so we go to play with Stevens again after five days,” said Petrus. “It was mental pressure, and I think they just couldn’t control. They want to play well, but it’s not just playing well. In volleyball you have to control yourself to make the right decision…There was no physical pressure, it was a lot of mental.”
With the early exit from the NECVA championships, the team now focuses on gearing up for winter 2012. Stross said that the team will have to constantly work hard in the gym during the summer and that the first-year students on the team will play huge roles come the fall pre-season and the winter. Even though the season is already over for the Hawks, Petrus’ goal of being within the top 10 of the AVCA have been met, as the Hawks were ranked as the 10th team in the AVCA Division III Men’s Top 15 Coaches Poll.
“I think the team played very well and they worked very hard,” said Petrus. “A parent from Medaille sent me an e-mail congratulating us and telling us how well we played…The team did a very good job.”