The Men’s Volleyball team has had a series of bumps and spikes the past two weeks.
The Hawks have maintained the No. 1 ranking in Div. III two weeks running, beating rival Springfield College and reaching a ten-game winning streak within the last three weeks of play. But the team’s relentless success ran short Feb. 25 when the Hawks fell to United Volleyball Conference (UVC) rival No. 6 Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The Hawks came into the Springfield Invitational on Feb. 14 with a No. 3 ranking and vendetta to beat the No. 2 Pride, who had defeated the Hawks in their home opener two weeks prior in a 3-1 loss.
“I feel our team looked at that loss as a learning experience and we were able to see what we did wrong and make adjustments and come out stronger for the second time we played them,” fourth-year Captain Victor Tuminelli said.
The Hawks came out swinging, sweeping the No. 1 ranked Rivier University 3-0 in the first match of the tournament before ousting Springfield in a tight three sets (25-23, 25-22, 25-23). The following day the Hawks clinched the tournament title with a sweep of Johnson and Wales University and a 3-1 win over Bard College.
Defeating the top two Div. III teams in the country and boasting a total 195 points, the Hawks received all 13 first-place votes from the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) NCAA Div. III Men’s Coaches Top-15 Poll, putting them in first place. This is the first time in the history of Hawks athletics that a program has received a No. 1 ranking in national standings.
“Everyone was really proud to be a part of the program,” Tuminelli said, “Most of us have been working for this for the past year and a half now, and we finally get the respect that we deserve.”
Second-year middle blocker Christopher Husmann said what separates the team from other high ranking programs like Springfield is the unconventional way in which they optimize each position and the court as a whole.
“We run a 6-2 when most teams run a 5-1,” Husmann said. “We have an outside [hitter] that’s a lefty and not many teams have that. We have an All-American outside, we have a libero that thinks he plays setter, we have a great middle blocker in Steve [Woessner], and then we have me, who’s not really a middle, but plays a kind of unorthodox middle.”
Second-year outside hitter Tim Ferriter said with the Hawks’ depth of talent and confidence in their ability of play, opposing teams are unable to pinpoint which members of their team are go-to players — allowing the Hawks to out power other teams and execute their plays.
“When a team has faith in each other, things start to flow and we can focus on individual skills that need improving instead of having to make up for others,” Ferriter said.
Head Coach Radu Petrus said he is happy with what the team has accomplished in obtaining a No. 1 ranking, but acknowledges the pressure that comes with such a title.
“Now it’s tough to stay No. 1, because everyone wants to beat us,” Petrus said. “Hopefully we can survive.”
Petrus’ concern came to fruition Tuesday, however, as the team dropped a five-set match (23-25, 25-23, 22-25, 25-17, 14-16) to MIT, who Petrus said were coming off of big wins against UC Santa Cruz and Vassar College and had only lost one UVC match thus far this season.
“We prepare for these UVC matches by looking at film from all the teams in our conference,” Petrus said. “We look for their weakness, for both offense and defense, against each team. We play our best players and play our best strategy.”
Ferriter and first-year middle blocker Woessner led the Hawks in kills with 13 each. Second-year setter Christian Smith tallied 11 kills and 28 assists, while third-year setter John Lutjen contributed 25 assists and 10 digs. Yet this was not enough to combat MIT’s consistency and presence at the net.
“Making excuses is never a good reason for a loss, but it was a tough situation for us as a team,” Ferriter said. “We had just come off a couple of big wins and may have overlooked them a little. We had trouble getting energized and finding the momentum we usually thrive off of.”
Ferriter said the long trip up to Boston affected the team’s ability to begin the game at their normal level of intensity – a factor he said is tough to recover from in the game of volleyball and led the team to play what Petrus called “safety volleyball” rather than the team’s normal “power volleyball.”
While a win would have secured the Hawks’ position as host of the UVC Tournament, it is up in the air as to where the Hawks, now tied for second in the UVC standings along with Nazareth College, will compete for the championship.
But both Petrus and players seem unshaken by their new 13-2 record, even after some controversy as to the ineligibility of a player at the start of the season, which ended in the vacating of four wins, including a victory against UVC competitor Vassar.
“It’s all mental at this point,” Petrus said. “We don’t have one specific player, it’s the team. One by one they help us win these matches. Overall the whole team does a good job and will lead us to where we want to be.”
This weekend the Hawks will travel across the Hudson to Poughkeepsie to compete against No. 2 Juniata College and Thiel College March 1. The next day they will take on Vassar and Dominican College (Ill.) at the Hawk Center.