Rallying After Loss

Photo By Robin Weinstein

The Men’s Volleyball team had two expectations on April 13 — to advance to the finals of the UVC Championship Tournament, and eventually play in the NCAA Div. III Championship Tournament.

After sweeping Medaille 3-0 in the quarterfinals, No.5 Stevens Institute of Technology was the next prey on the Hawks’ list.

New Paltz was up 24-21 during the fourth set and had a chance to cement their place in the finals, which Head Coach Radu Petrus said was his favorite moment during the tournament. His most frustrating moment came after the Ducks forced a fifth set and were up 13-9. Petrus already used his two timeouts and could not create a play moving forward. The Hawks eventually lost in the fifth set 15-13.

Petrus cited lack of experience as a downfall, but is thoroughly satisfied with the level of success the Hawks have seen this season, he said. The Hawks have never been swept in three sets this season and have forced four or five sets against strong teams such as Nazareth College and Springfield College.

They won 27 matches, the most since the 1987 team who achieved a 31-7 overall record.

“We are a younger team and they need more experience in game situations with a good team,” Petrus said. “They have to be more comfortable. So now, after this tournament, I’ll make a plan for what will be the target for next year for the team, for each player, for the offense, for the defense.”

The Ducks boasted more blocks — seven to the Hawks’ six — which is an area of the game Petrus said the team will work on for next season. The Hawks edged the Ducks in kills, 77-68, but committed 24 errors while the Ducks recorded 15.

Third-year Co-captain Brian Smith was battling severe allergies throughout the tournament, but still managed to record 15 kills, 6 digs and a .407 hitting percentage. He described the mood after the game as “sad,” but also acknowledged that the disappointment did not overshadow the commitment each player displayed during the match.

“It’s definitely a tough pill to swallow when you know you were right there and had you won that game, you would be playing in the NCAA Tournament,” Smith said. “Just looking around, almost in shock, it was devastating, but we had a lot of guys who said ‘listen, keep your heads up. No matter what, it’s been a great season and we can’t say anything bad about the effort that was put in by everyone.’”

The Hawks missed obtaining a bid to the NCAA Tournament by two points, Petrus said. The NCAA Div. III Men’s Volleyball Tournament was established in 2012 and only nine teams can qualify. Since the pool of teams allowed to enter the tournament is so small, only three at-large bids are granted. Compared to the Women’s Volleyball tournament, which began in 1981 and grants 19 bids for 64 qualifying teams, the Hawks had a slim chance to receive a bid after losing to Stevens.

Smith said the team has wasted no time getting back to practice. They rested on Sunday, a day used to “clear our heads,” he said. The players collectively decided that there will be no off-season and have hit the gym every day since the tournament’s end.

Though fourth-year outside hitter Bryan Weber was disappointed with how his last season ended, he said what he valued most was the friendships he made, which outweigh the “heartbreak” the team experienced after the loss.

“The guys on this team truly re-energized my desire to play, even when my body was telling me that it may be time to give it up,” Weber said. “I will always be thankful for that.”

Looking ahead, Petrus said the new recruits have the same level of talent as the rookies he brought in this season. A new crop of first-years will allow Petrus to use players in different positions, he said.

Weber said he is confident that the team will be successful in the upcoming years. The team’s renewed commitment to the game has allowed them to gain confidence in their abilities, he said.

“This year there was a noticeable change in the culture of New Paltz volleyball,” Weber said. “Guys were always in the gym working out before or after practice, more and more fans were showing up to support us and the team itself began to realize our potential. This program is going to be in good hands for a long time.”

Smith said despite the loss, the Hawks’ fifth place national ranking is a defining aspect of their bright season. He said the tournament confirms his belief that the team is a family, always picking each other up during rough moments. According to Smith, one mentality will drive this team next season — hunger.

“We’re going to come back next year and it’s going to be scary,” Smith said. “Because ending the way we did this year, it honestly put a hunger in us and a fight in us that you’re not going to see from a lot of people, so it’s going to be good and I’m looking forward to it.”