Tough Road Ahead for Men’s Volleyball

Looking to return to the NCAA Division III Men's Volleyball Championship match, the Hawks have begun their season with a record of 3-2. Photo courtesy of sports information.

The men’s volleyball team currently has a record of 3-2 after defeating Ramapo College 3-0 (25-15, 25-16, 25-17) on Wednesday, Jan. 31.

The Hawks went 2-2 on the road to start their season, playing Lancaster Bible College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania before a three-game stint against Eastern Mennonite University, Stevenson University and No. 14 Marymount University.

New Paltz displayed their toughness early this season, opening the campaign with a 3-0 (25-15, 25-22, 27-25) win on Jan. 16 at Lancaster Bible.

Third-year setter and outside hitter Bradley Schneider led the Hawks with 11 kills, while fourth-year setter Mitchell Kennedy and second-year setter Matthew Grace tallied 23 and 13 assists, respectively.

The following day, however, the Hawks lost to Eastern Mennonite 3-0 (25-16, 25-20, 27-25) in their first game of the year. The Royals led the game in points, kills, aces, blocks, assists and digs.

Although the Hawks posted a .122 hitting percentage compared to Eastern Mennonite’s .299 mark, they fought till the end in the third set, forcing another tie at 25. Third-year setter and opposite Nick Smith led the Hawks in kills with 12, while Grace posted 20 assists.

New Paltz can be very happy with the play of their underclassmen so far this year. Grace currently leads the team with 73 assists, and second-year outside hitter Aaron Carrk is second on the team in kills with 27.

“The younger guys are always stepping up and asking questions,” Hawks fourth-year middle blocker and outside hitter Ryan Cole said. “Getting a lot of playing time and experiencing a playoff and national championship run last year are things that make these young guys develop much more quickly.”

New Paltz’s resilience proved tough in their next match of the road trip, mounting an incredible comeback win by a score of 3-2 (19-25, 28-30, 25-23, 26-24, 15-6) on Jan. 17 over Stevenson. After dropping the first two sets, the Hawks were able to pull out the next two sets. The Mustangs proved to be no match for New Paltz in the last set.

“We can pull together when things get tough,” Cole said. “Games like this really give you confidence that we can do anything (as a team) when we put our mind to it.”

The Hawks’ offense was led by Smith and Carrk, who racked up 15 and 14 kills, respectively. Grace distributed 31 assists, while Kennedy had 29 of his own.

Unfortunately, New Paltz could not continue their winning ways later on in the day against Marymount. They dropped the match 3-0 (25-17, 25-21, 25-22).

Smith led the Hawks in kills with seven, followed by Cole with six and Carrk with five. Kennedy dubbed 12 assists, while Grace had nine himself.

The Hawks, who entered this season as the No. 3 ranked team in the AVCA Preseason Coaches Poll, are not disappointed by how they played over winter intersession.

“We learned a lot from this trip,” Hawks head coach Radu Petrus said. “We have a lot of potential. A lot of room for improvement. If we work hard, good things will happen.”

Following their first set of games, the team dropped to No. 13 in the AVCA Div. III Poll.

Things have been a little bit tougher for the Hawks with two injuries early in the season. Both fourth-year outside hitter Anthony Bonilla and second-year middle blocker Nick O’Malley have yet to play so far this year.

New Paltz’s schedule will only continue to get tougher, as they travel to Springfield, Massachusetts for the International Volleyball Hall of Fame Morgan Classic from Friday, Feb. 9 to Saturday, Feb. 10. They will also face three current nationally ranked teams early in March, No. 7 Dominican University, No. 8 UC Santa Cruz and No. 1 Springfield College.

The Hawks are not shy of the road ahead, however.

“We’re going to get healthy, stay united and confident, and we’re going to show those top teams why we should be on top,” Kennedy said.

The Hawks will open up at home on Wednesday, Feb. 14 against SUNY Polytechnic.