The New Paltz Men’s Volleyball Team had a stellar regular season, going 7-0 in the United Volleyball Conference (UVC). The Hawks earned the top-seed in the conference and had the honor of hosting the UVC tournament. The tournament began with the quarterfinals on Friday, April 8. Being the top-seed, New Paltz had a bye for the quarterfinals.
Fourth-year outside hitter Chris Shanley said the team knew they had a huge target on their backs going into the conference, but had a good week of practice before and felt ready to compete.
Fans got to watch NYU take on Nazareth to see who the Hawks would be facing first. First-year opposite Evan Kane said they knew no matter what team [would come] out on top, it was going to be a battle. By the end, New Paltz knew they’d be seeing NYU the next day at 2:30 p.m. If they survived the semifinals, they’d be one step closer to nabbing their first conference championship since 2019.
NYU proved early that they weren’t going down without a fight, but neither was New Paltz, who recovered from a 7-3 deficit to control the first set. First-year outside hitter Carter Lotz was a huge part of that recovery, as well as his teammates fourth-year middle blocker John Ronan, fourth-year outside hitter Brendan Spulnick and third-year middle blocker Pat Wing, who all earned multiple kills. New Paltz took the first set 25-20.
New Paltz also kept the lead during set two, but NYU was always right on their tails, making things interesting. Spulnick got some service aces while the team as a whole capitalized on NYU errors and ended with another 25-20 set victory.
The boys in blue and orange could win it all in set three; but, tournament games are never that simple. The NYU Bobcats had a comeback in sets three and four. In the third, New Paltz lost points on attack errors, and while fourth-year setter Kyle Shaffer and Shanley were giving it their best efforts in the fourth, New Paltz lost both 25-20 and 25-23, respectively.
Shanley said the team knew NYU was going to be a difficult match.
“They played very tough against us earlier this season and we knew they were gonna be hungry to win,” Shanley said. “After going up 2-0, we got too comfortable with the way we were playing and that was the difference maker allowing them to make a comeback in the third and fourth set. At the end of the fourth, we all just picked up our energy and knew that the only way we were gonna beat them was by playing our game and fighting until the end.”
The semifinals would come down to one set to 15 points. NYU got ahead during the first and third serve, but that was the only lead they’d have of the set. Kane got a kill to kick New Paltz off, and Wing finished it with a service ace. New Paltz won the set 15-9 and the game 3-2.
For the seventh time in program history, the Hawks were heading to the finals. New Paltz took on St. John Fisher (SJFC) after the Cardinals elimination of Vassar College, at 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 10. In a similar fashion, both teams took it all the way to set five.
New Paltz took control of most of set one, working together to create a solid lead that was only threatened right at the end. SJFC earned five points in a row from errors, aces and a kill to cut their deficit from 24-15 to 24-20. New Paltz eventually got their final point needed to end the set; a kill from Wing sent the teams into set two.
Spulnick started out serving strong, but not even an athlete of his skill could stop the Cardinals from infiltrating set two and taking it 25-18. Set three was closer, but SJFC was just a little ahead of New Paltz. Now the Cardinals began to keep New Paltz on their toes, as they won set three, 25-21. Could the Hawks make it past the edge of extinction?
“Between those sets we really wanted to focus on keeping our energy high because we knew that we were going to have to fight every point for the rest of the game,” Kane said.
In the fourth set, New Paltz did not let SJFC’s lead get in their heads, and came back fiercely. Shanley, Ronan and Spulnick were the stars of the set, collectively earning 15 points of the Hawks’ final 25-22. New Paltz even had a come from behind scoring streak of five to keep them alive and moving on to the final set.
“I think my performance reflected my teammates in that fourth set,” Shanley said. “Everybody fought until the final whistle and we wanted to go as far as possible and make them earn a victory. We had a great comeback late in the fourth and Pat had a huge serving run that really got us back in the game and helped us believe again.”
New Paltz continued to give it their all. The Cardinals had an early set five lead, 7-3, but the Hawks cut that in half, and brought it right up to the very end. The score was 14-13, SJFC. New Paltz could tie it for the first time in the set.
Unfortunately, a kill from the Cardinals gave SJFC the point they needed to become UVC Champions.
“After that final point in the fifth, I was definitely upset with the outcome,” Shanley said. “As a senior, I was hoping we’d come away with a UVC Championship, but sometimes you just come up short. I’m happy with the way we played and fought, and proud of how all of my teammates played. I feel like everyone gave 100% which is all you can ask from everyone.”
Shanley added his time at New Paltz has been amazing, and his teammates are his brothers, [and] he couldn’t have asked to share this last season with any other group of guys, no matter the score.
Although New Paltz did not win the championships, this season is not over for the Hawks. They won a bid into the NCAA Tournament, and will compete for the first time since 2019. They will face Marymount, who also lost in their conference championships. Round one starts Friday, April 15.
“Even though we’re losing five seniors, I think the team will be able to bounce back in a big way. We’re returning the same starting line up apart from Chris Shanley. It won’t be easy to find a replacement for the UVC player of the year, but I think that the group of guys New Paltz is going to have will be capable of something special,” Kane said.
Shanley added the program is in great hands for years to come. “There’s Only One,” he said.