Though many upcoming sports have tough seasons ahead, Vassar College men’s volleyball team are placed in what they are calling the toughest draw they have faced during a single season. The Brewers aim to improve their standing in the league, coming off of a disappointing previous two seasons. Upping time on the court and increasing their level of intenisty, the members of men’s volleyball seek to prove themselves as a mighty force within the league and uphold their reputation as a nationally ranked Division III team.
The men’s volleyball team is currently ranked number 11 in the national American Volley Coaches Association (AVCA) pre season pool. Yet, in a region that contains the most top 15 nationally ranked D-3 teams in the country, the caliber of teams that the Brewers are scheduled to face is daunting. The team will attempt to improve last year’s record of 19-11. Middle hitter, senior Matthew Elgin, expressed his determination for the team to have a stronger season. “While we have always been ranked in the Top 15 nationally during that period, we have not made it out of the first round of our conference playoffs. Regardless of how tough our conference is, losing in the first round is not what our team believes we are capable of,” wrote Elgin in an emailed statement. “We are looking to improve on our postseason record this season, win our conference tournament, and make the NCAA tournament. If we want to accomplish these goals we’re going to have to really come together as a unit, and play with an ‘us-against-the-world’ mentality. Although these are lofty goals, I have complete confidence in our team and am so proud to be a part of it.”
To reach these “lofty goals,” the team has put in several hours of practice in a week. “We have a very rigorous practice and game schedule. We have one or the other around 6 days a week,” explained Elgin. “Practices are usually about 2 hours and then we lift 2-3 days a week.”
The first game of the season came on January 26 against Stevenson College. The Brewers started off slow and were behind by one set. However, Vassar surged forward, winning 3-2. Right side hitter, freshman Reno Kriz, who led the Brewers with 15 kills and added eight digs, was instrumental in the comeback, while Elgin followed close behind with 13 kills. Outside hitter, junior Joe Pyne pulled out nine crucial digs during the match while libero/defensive specialist, senior Christian La Du, got seven. La Du was named Libero of the Year during the 2012 season. The second match of the day came against the number 3 ranked Juniata College. Despite playing two tight sets, the Brewers fell 0-3.
The first United Volleyball Conference (UVC) match of the season was against Stevens Institute of Technology on January 30. Vassar played a tight four set match. Although they fought hard, the Brewers eventually lost 1-3. “We have gotten off to a bit of a slow start this season,” wrote Elgin. “But we have 9 days of practice before our next game and are going to work very hard to fix what needs to be fixed. I am confident we will get there for our conference crossover matches next weekend in Buffalo.”
Despite not having the strongest start for the season, head coach Robert Wolter feels that the team has the potential to be one of the best in the division and make it far in the finals. “The ultimate goal is to qualify for the NCAA D-III Championships. In order to do so, we must narrow our focus within our conference and strive to compete for UVC championship. If you are competing for the UVC championship, that puts you in the top echelon of teams in the country, and that’s where we want to be. We will be a team that consistently gets better as we go through the season and hopefully we will be in a position to be successful in the postseason,” wrote Wolter in an emailed statement. “I am confident that we can compete with anyone and I expect us to regroup from the early setback and learn from our mistakes. It is a long season and we must focus on one team at a time.” Wolter went on to describe what the coaching staff will do in preparation for the rest of the season. “We teach tactics and skills and we try to make our practices mimic the game. We spend time focusing on the process of the game and keeping the athletes focused on their role and doing it to the very best of their ability,” explained Wolter.
One thing that the men’s volleyball team does not lack is team dynamic. “This team has some of the best chemistry I’ve been a part of here at Vassar. I love these guys,” wrote Elgin in an emailed statement. “We all get along well and work hard for each others’ success. I think if we want to accomplish our goals this season we are going to have to feed off of that chemistry. I am so proud to be a part of this team and work to better myself for all the guys every time I step in the gym, and I know they do the same.”
Freshman Kadeem Nibbs quickly felt the camaraderie after joining the team after his competitive high school volleyball career. “When I first came onto the team, I was shocked by the level of competition that the Vassar team exhibited in open gyms,” wrote Nibbs. “ But the thing I appreciate most about the team is definitely the camaraderie and the humor. [E]ven though our team competes at a very high level and intends to win a National Championship, a little humor can go a long way towards easing our nerves.”
No matter the outcome this season, Wolter is confident in his team’s preparation. “What makes us a hard working team is our level of commitment,” wrote Wolter. “We devote time in the weightroom right away when they come back to school and throughout our season. We spend time in the classroom watching film on our opponents so we are better prepared when we face our opponents… so we can learn from our mistakes.”
Elgin, during his last year here at Vassar, has high expectations for his team, and wants to make a statement. “We are a very hard working team. In the off-season all the guys hit the gym and saw serious improvements in their physical game,” described Elgin. “We push ourselves and each other in practice and try to foster a competitive environment. I want this team to be portrayed as a band of brothers. I want an “us-against-the-world” mentality. I want all of us to want to improve and do our best to help everyone else on the team succeed. If we can come together and be the team I know we are, we are going to have one hell of a season.”