Returning from their trip to California, the men’s volleyball team finds themselves with their hottest start to a season since 2015 at 5-1.
The Hawks earned two key wins against the No. 8 ranked team in the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) coaches poll California Lutheran University, and a victory against the once No. 9 team in the nation, the University of California Santa Cruz, to solidify themselves as the No. 5 team in the country.
“We take these games seriously in the beginning of the season, and we expect to be improving after each match,” said head coach Radu Petrus. “We had great competition all trip, so it was a good start to our season. Our players are more motivated, and are ready to work in practice and improve their game.”
To start the season, the Hawks earned a 2-0 sweep in the first day of the University of California Santa Cruz Slug Slam tournament. After going up 2-0 in the first match and holding a narrow lead in the third set against Marian University, New Paltz dropped the next two sets to bring the match even. Seven attack errors by the Sabres in the fifth set ultimately handed the Hawks the match, 3-2 (25-22, 25-19, 32-34, 25-27, 15-6). The Hawks dropped the first set in the match against California Lutheran University, but bounced back with a strong showing to take a 3-1 (19-25, 25-22, 25-22, 25-22) win against the top-10 opponent.
Fighting back from a slight deficit in the fourth set against Marian, a kill by third-year outside hitter Aaron Carrk began a 4-0 run for New Paltz to tie things at 13. With the Hawks gaining the lead back at 16-15, they pushed forward to gain a 22-21 advantage off a fourth-year outside hitter and setter Bradley Schneider kill. An attack error and kill by the Sabres swung momentum on their side, taking the lead once again at 23-22 and forcing another New Paltz timeout.
With Marian holding a 25-24 lead late in the fourth, fourth-year outside hitter Nick Smith came up clutch for the Hawks with a kill to even the set at 25. Two more kills by the Sabres, however, gave them the set win at 27-25 and brought the match even at two.
New Paltz came out hungry in the fifth set, grabbing a 7-1 lead and never looking back. Overpowering Marian until the end, a service ace by third-year middle blocker Tevin Skeete sealed the match and the set 15-6, giving the Hawks their first win of the season.
With the fourth set tied at six against Cal Lutheran, another kill by Carrk allowed New Paltz to score six unanswered points and take the lead, 12-6. The Hawks went ahead 16-9, but a 6-2 run by the Kingsmen brought them back in the game down 18-15. Cal Lutheran would use that momentum to score five unanswered points of their own, taking the lead at 20-19.
Finding a way to finish strong, a kill by Schneider caused another 6-2 run for New Paltz to win the set 25-22, and the match 3-1 against the No. 8 team in the country.
“We emphasized coming out in the fifth with a lot of energy,” Carrk said. “Our team thrives on adrenaline and we know when we have a lot of energy no one can stop us.”
The following day, the Hawks dropped the first set in each match against North Central College and UC Santa Cruz, but came back to sweep the next three sets in both matches. New Paltz first defeated the Cardinals 3-1 (23-25, 25-18, 25-19, 25-20), followed by a 3-1 (23-25, 25-23, 25-14, 25-17) win over the Slugs to move to 4-0 on the year.
In a close fourth set with North Central, the Hawks found a spark when a Smith kill created four unanswered points for New Paltz to take a 14-11 lead. When the Cardinals came back to take the lead at 17-16, the Hawks continued to provide an answer, as a kill by Schneider allowed them to score three more unanswered points and take the lead back, 19-17. New Paltz’s offense warded off any Cardinal attempt, as another kill by Smith sealed the set 25-20, and gave the Hawks their first win of the day, 3-1.
Taking a 4-0 lead in the fourth against UC Santa Cruz, New Paltz dominated on both sides of the ball to finish off the match. Scoring in flurries and never allowing the Slugs to take the lead back, a kill by Carrk sealed the set 25-17, and gave the Hawks their second win of the year against a top-10 opponent.
Third-year setter Matthew Grace was named tournament MVP after finishing with 213 assists through 17 sets played in the Slug Slam, while Smith and third-year middle blocker Nick O’Malley were named to the All-Tournament team.
Unable to find a win in their next match against Hope International University, New Paltz bounced back from the 1-3 (27-25, 24-26, 20-25, 23-25) loss with another strong 3-2 (25-23, 17-25, 28-26, 20-25, 15-13) win against Cal Lutheran to finish off the California trip.
With the match against the Kingsmen tied at two, New Paltz was not ready for Cal Lutheran’s offense early in the fifth and final set, falling 0-4. A kill by third-year outside hitter Riley Dolan, and a service ace and two kills by Schneider, however, allowed the Hawks to climb right back and tie the set at seven.
Holding the lead at 13-11, New Paltz gave up two crucial errors to tie the set again with the Kingsmen at 13. A kill by Dolan and a service ace by O’Malley was enough for the Hawks to grab the set, 15-13, and win the hard fought match to cap off their hot start.
“They are a very solid team and we stepped up and played as a team, and it showed,” Schneider said. “They have very talented pin hitters and our tough serving was able to put them out of system and force roll shots and free balls. It was great to see everyone play well and bounce back.”
New Paltz will return to action Feb. 6 for their first United Volleyball Conference (UVC) match of 2019 against Vassar College.
“I don’t think we’ve played our best ball yet,” Carrk said. “We have a lot to learn and a lot of work to do before we can feel comfortable and confident in our gameplay, but I thinking beating those teams [in California] was a step in the right direction.”