This year, Vassar men’s volleyball reached the NCAA Division III national semifinals, the first time the team has done so since 2008, and only the third time in the program’s history. They booked their ticket to the semifinals Saturday, April 21, with a 3-1 victory over Kean University. This historic win came in front of a full crowd that included parents, students and, notably, members of the men’s soccer team dressed in cow suits, who would dive on the floor with every point won by the Brewers.
Head Coach Richard Gary reflected: “That Kean match was one for the record books. It was a special thing to share the NCAAs with our campus, family, friends and a bunch of guys in cow outfits. You can’t even imagine that in the beginning of the season. It was definitely beyond our wildest imagination.”
While the team was unable to ride the momentum coming off of their victory against Kean, losing 3-0 to eventual champions Springfield College on Friday, April 27, this was by no means a failure of a season for the Brewers. The Springfield Pride went undefeated in 29 games against DIII opponents throughout the year.
Senior hitter Matt Knigge described how the team managed to rally together after a disappointing loss in their conference finals.
“On the whole, I’m really happy with the entire season,” Knigge said. “We definitely had our low points, but rebounded well and finished out the year on a good run.”
In their final loss, the Brewers stood strong; despite being swept 3-0, they remained competitive in each set, losing 27-25, 25-21 and 26-24. By saying that close with the dominant Pride, Knigge believes the team still represented themselves well.
“Even though we lost, I’m really happy with how we played,” Knigge said. “In the end, to beat a team like Springfield, you need to capitalize on their errors. And we weren’t able to do that at the key moments at the end of sets. There are two or three points in each set that I think we would like to have back, but at the end of the day the chips didn’t fall in our favor.”
Sophomore libero Kevin Ros agreed that although the outcome could have been better, the game showed strong flashes for the team both now and in the future.
“With how close the scores were, we would have won the first and third set if four points went our way instead of Springfield’s,” Ros said. “That could be anything from a missed serve to a bad call by the referee. Regardless, I think that, as a team, we still have plenty of things we need to work on. This gives us some great goals for next year.”
According to Ros, much of the team’s success this year can be attributed to the culture fostered by both upperclassmen and the staff. Throughout a long grueling season with plenty of ups and downs, the team stayed focused and driven on just one singular goal.
“Fundamentally, our coach and senior leadershipallowed us to achieve these results,” Ros explained. “They made it clear from day one that we were competing for a national championship. It gave practices a sense of urgency—every drill had a purpose.”
Gary agreed that the upperclassmen on the team were instrumental in reaching the Final Four, and also emphasized the role and contribution of the newer members of the squad.
“We had a great combination of experience and a talented group of underclassmen,” Gary said. “The older guys remembered our Elite 8 loss last year and worked to prepare both mentally and physically to give us a better opportunity, and the new guys entered every day with a sense of purpose and focus.”
According to Knigge, another aspect of the team that contributed greatly to their success was their chemistry, as the members bonded throughout the year and were able to translate their relationships to the court.
“We really benefited from a good team culture,”
Knigge explained. “When you get into close matches, you need to trust your teammates and play for one another. The only way to do that is to have close bonds with each and every player, from starter to the reserves. And I think that could really be felt this year.”
While the team’s first trip to the NCAA Final Four did not end quite as they would have hoped, the Brewers will look to exceed the new standard set by this year’s team.
Ros believes that the experience of competing and succeeding in the tournament, along with the goal-focused mentality fostered by this year’s team, will be beneficial to the Brewers in the future.
“Of course, we didn’t end up winning, but without that mentality we wouldn’t have come as close,” Ros said. “And now that many of the underclassmen got a taste of what it is like to compete at a national championship, I have no doubt that the same mentality will be carried into next season.”