After finishing second in the United Volleyball Conference (UVC), the New Paltz men’s volleyball team defeated No. 3 St. John Fisher College in the semifinals and No. 1 Stevens Institute of Technology in the finals en route to the UVC Championship.
The first set against St. John Fisher was back and forth with each team scoring in bunches to stay alive. At 8-4 Cardinals, New Paltz was able to get back ahead 9-8 with a 5-0 run on three attack errors and two kills by fourth-year outside hitter Bradley Schneider.
St. John Fisher answered back immediately with a 3-0 run of their own to go up 11-9. However, consistent mistakes would be the death of the St. John Fisher in this set. With the Hawks down 12-11, a four-point run consisting of three Cardinal errors and a kill by Schneider gave the Hawks a 15-12 advantage.
The Hawks and Cardinals would trade points from there on out, but five more errors by St. John Fisher would be the difference as New Paltz finished off the set with a 25-20 victory.
The second set was a nail biter from start to finish with no team leading by more than four points throughout.
With the score tied at 20, a kill by third-year outside hitter Aaron Carrk, followed by two Cardinal attack errors, gave the Hawks a solid cushion heading into the home stretch. St. John Fisher added consecutive points to make it 23-22 but that would be the last points they would score as a Hawks 2-0 run finished off by yet another Cardinal error, would end the second set with Hawks up 2-0 in the match.
New Paltz trailed for almost the entirety of the third set and never took the lead. Close until the end, a 7-2 run for the Cardinals to push them ahead 19-13 would be more than enough as the St. John Fisher came out with their only set victory, 25-20.
In the fourth set the Hawks finished off the Cardinals rather handily, 25-16 to win the match 3-1 and advance to the UVC Final against top seeded Stevens Institute of Technology.
Schneider led the Hawks with 14 kills with Carrk close behind at 13. Carrk led in aces (3) and digs (9).
However, the Hawks are not taking their success for granted.
“There are no guarantees in volleyball or any other sports,” said Hawks head coach Radu Petrus. “Each volleyball match is unique, you can win or lose making just a few mistakes.”
In the first set of the UVC Final, New Paltz jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead on kills by third-year setter Matthew Grace, fourth-year outside-hitter Nick Smith and an attack error.
Putting together multiple scoring runs early, New Paltz was able to jump out to a 17-10 lead. A subsequent 6-1 run by the Ducks closed the gap to 18-16 but they couldn’t keep pace with the mighty Hawks. From that point on New Paltz would outscore Stevens Institute of Technology 6-3 to win the set 25-21.
Both teams came to play in a second set that included 20 ties and seven lead changes.
With the Hawks down 21-20, a 3-0 run on two attack errors and a Carrk kill pushed New Paltz in front 23-21. The Ducks immediately tied the match on two Hawk attack errors, but not before each team traded the next two points to even the score at 24.
A kill by Smith and a Ducks attack error closed out the set 26-24 and gave the Hawks the 2-0 match lead heading into the third set of the final.
In the third set, New Paltz fell behind 16-10 on a trio of Ducks scoring runs. The Hawks inched closer with back-to-back kills by Smith and Schneider to make it 16-12, but that would be the closest they would get as Stevens Institute of Technology outscored the Hawks 9-2 the remainder of the set to win handily, 25-14.
With the Hawks one win away from the NCAA tournament, it all came down to the most competitive set of the weekend. After trading points for much of set, the scoreboard read 20-20. Both teams went back and forth as kills by Carrk, Schneider as well as a service ace by Smith and a Ducks attacking error were matched by Stevens Institute of Technology to even the score at 24.
A subsequent attack error by Carrk put the Ducks up 25-24, however a kill by Schneider and two more Duck attack errors propelled the Hawks back to the NCAA Tournament.
“I think [our loss to Stevens on March 27] really fueled us up to get revenge on those guys and it really made our focus level increase incredibly,” Smith said. “We are on the right track as a team and we have to continue to build on this and I am very confident we will!”
The Hawks will face off against Baruch College in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday, April 19 at Endicott College.
“In the first round of the NCAA’s we are expecting a win over Baruch,” Schneider said. “We’ve seemnthem before, beating them 3-0 earlier this year, so we know what threats they have and how to minimize those threats. We’re excited for our first round matchup this Friday.”