Season closes with broken records, NCAA appearance

Junior Zechariah Lee sets up serve in recent home match in Kenyon Hall. Lee was named AVCA All-American Second Team due to his strong performances throughout the season. / Courtesy of Carlisle Stockton

The Vassar men’s volleyball team just wrapped up a historic season. Although the Brewers’ season ended with a disappointing loss in the NCAA tournament, the team finished with a program-best record with 26 wins and eight losses. Additionally, Vassar set another school record with 13 consecutive wins.

Unfortunately, the Brewers’ season came to an end at the hands of the New Paltz Hawks who topped Vassar in the first round of the tournament. VC fell in three sets with scores of 25-19, 25-15 and 25-23.

In the first set, New Paltz came out firing on all cylinders. The Hawks hit .414 in the opening game, as well as picking up 17 kills to close out the first period.

Then in the second set, Vassar fought back, forcing the match to a tie at 13. However, the Brewers lost four straight points to pull the Hawks up 17-13. The Brewers would continue on to only score two more points to the Hawk’s eight, finishing off the second set at 15-25. New Paltz posted 16 more kills in the second period and kept their hitting percentage at .333.

The third set was the closest of the three, but New Paltz was able to prevent the Brewers from pushing the match into a fourth set. Vassar fell behind in an early 11-17 deficit, but went on a fourpoint streak to pull it within two. The Brewers did not give up and went on another streak late in the set to pull the score to 23-22 with a kill from junior Matt Knigge. However, the Brewers were never able to extend past the Hawks, and New Paltz made their way into the national semifinals.

The Brewers were led by Knigge who had 10 kills on 19 attempts, two assisted blocks and an ace. Meanwhile, senior Christian Lizana posted six kills, and sophomore George Diehl had five kills and two blocks. Vassar hit 0.239 on the day, and senior Trey Cimorelli added in seven of the 23 total digs for the Brewers. Junior Zechariah Lee had 26 assists, two digs and three assisted blocks.

Head Coach Richard Gary, in his first year here at Vassar, helped lead the team to the NCAA tournament and the UVC semi-finals. In terms of the team’s NCAA appearance, he is certain that the team could have performed better: “Honestly, I think we would all say that something was off in our play this weekend,” Coach Gary noted. “It’s got to be some combination of nerves, preparation and simply an opponent who played a very good game against us. The guys did the work to be fresh, focused and relaxed for the match, but sometimes you can’t substitute experience. Last year’s national champion New Paltz executed a great game, and we didn’t have the adjustments to compete.”

Looking back on the squad’s trip to the NCAA tournament, Lee seconded Coach Gary’s sentiments about the team’s lackluster performance. Nevertheless, Lee and the rest of the squad are still grateful that they had the opportunity to play in the tournament. “The whole NCAA experience was incredibly special,” Lee stated. “Everything had a different feel. There’s a magical feeling about being able to play on that kind of stage, and we really tried to embrace the moment and be present. We didn’t play to our fullest potential, but at the end of today, we enjoyed ourselves, and I’m super grateful to have had this experience, especially with the other guys on this team.”

Looking back on the squad’s trip to the NCAA tournament, Lee seconded Coach Gary’s sentiments about the team’s lackluster performance. Nevertheless, Lee and the rest of the squad are still grateful that they had the opportunity to play in the tournament. “The whole NCAA experience was incredibly special,” Lee stated. “Everything had a different feel. There’s a magical feeling about being able to play on that kind of stage, and we really tried to embrace the moment and be present. We didn’t play to our fullest potential, but at the end of today, we enjoyed ourselves, and I’m super grateful to have had this experience, especially with the other guys on this team.”

Coach Gary and the rest of the squad recognized not any one individual’s talents, but rather the strength of the team as a cohesive unit. “It’s impossible to single out one contribution in this group over any of the others. Some guys didn’t get much court time, but their efforts every day in training and the way they pushed us and fought for opportunities pushed everyone. There wasn’t a player on this team who didn’t propel us forward, and that complete effort is what makes the season fun, as well as leading to some great victories.”

First-year Kevin Ros had a great first year here as a member of the men’s volleyball squad. As a freshman, Ros was especially excited to immediately get the opportunity to attend the NCAA tournament. “Being able to go to NCAAs in my first season was unreal,” he noted. “At first it was nerve-racking, but as the game began it gradually turned into excitement.”

In terms of who helped lead the team to such a remarkable season, Ros pointed to the upperclassmen. “There is no question that without our upperclassmen, we wouldn’t have even come close to NCAA’s. They always remained positive through the tough points and kept everyone on track,” he noted.

Graduating three influential seniors, the team will have a large gap to fill in the upcoming season. “We will be very sad to lose these three seniors, who are the core of our passing unit, as well as the light and positive attitudes they brought in every day to practice,” Coach Gary explained. However, the squad has many talented returners in addition to a strong incoming class of first-years.

Lee is already looking forward to next year and setting goals for the team. “We want to make a deep run in the tournament again and we also feel like we’re still in a position to win the national championship,” he said. However, he also just wants to make sure the team’s experience is as positive as possible. “At the end of the day though, we just want to go out and have fun and play the best volleyball we could possibly play,” he explained.

The men’s volleyball squad had a great run this year and set many records in the process. Nevertheless, they will return to the court next year, hoping to be back better than ever.

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