Most teams entering the championship games at the end of the season have quite a lot to win as well as to lose. This weekend Vassar’s men’s volleyball ended their winning season with a bit of revenge as they faced tough competition at the UVC Championships.
Vassar, seeded fifth in the conference and ranked eleventh nationally, went against other top teams in the country. Junior outside hitter Joe Pyne remarked that despite all the pressure, the Championships were also a great opportunity for the team. “The UVC championships were something that we had been looking forward to this entire season,” he wrote in an emailed statement. “It was a chance to prove ourselves against some of the toughest volleyball teams in the nation.”
The Quarterfinals presented the Brewers with a rematch against New York University, to whom they had lost only four days prior. This match was extremely close, with the NYU Violets winning by less than a five point margin in each of the three sets. Also adding to the excitement of the quarterfinal game was NYU’s placement just barely ahead of Vassar: seeded fourth and ranked tenth nationally.
Though there was a lot on the line, Pyne noted that the Brewers were ready to take on their rivals. “The first match we had was against NYU, a team that had beaten us this year twice before, so we were pretty excited to come into the weekend for a little bit of revenge,” he wrote.
Head Coach Robert Wolter echoed this sentiment. “I would say we were calm but very excited. With returning seniors in the starting lineup who have all been here before really helps and keeps everyone level headed.”
As one might expect, the match was tightly contested and both teams went back and forth throughout the competition. Vassar appeared to have an early lead, winning the first two sets 25-23 each. However NYU managed to rally after the losses and took the third set. The fourth set began with a strong Brewers lead until a service error gave the Violets the chance to come back for the win. Once Vassar gained the lead in the fifth set they managed to stay ahead for the duration of the match, and with a 15-11 victory, they took the quarterfinal.Senior outside hitter Charlie Caldwell had ten kills and nine digs, while fellow senior setter John Konow had 46 assists and ten digs.
Wolter was very excited about the outcome of the match. “It was a great feeling!” he wrote. “NYU has always been a rival and we look forward to playing them every year. We always knew or felt we were the better team and it was just a matter of putting it together when it counted. This also marked the first time that the senior class won their opening round match to advance to the semi finals and that made the victory even better.” With the win the Brewers had a 20-win season, their first in five years and the second highest win total in the program’s history. But the Championships were not over, and Vassar still had to face the second-ranked Nazareth College in the semi-finals. Though the match was extremely important, the team was prepared to play tough.
“After the quarters, we knew that we’d be taking on Nazareth, the defending champs,” Pyne noted. “They have always shown up and played their best volleyball, so we were prepared to fight for every point.”
As expected the semi-final game was demanding, and ultimately resulted in a loss to Nazareth. However the Brewers lost the last set by only three points, and senior middle hitter Matt Elgin hit a perfect 1.00 and had six kills.
The outcome may not have been desired, but it was only one part of the entire season. “Ultimately, we had expectations to win the whole thing,” Coach Wolter explained. “But our mindset was to take one match at a time. We knew each that each opponent we faced would be a nationally ranked team and we could not take anything for granted.”
Overall the volleyball team had a successful season, meeting some of its goals and working their way toward others. The 20 wins were what the team had hoped to accomplish, as was an appearance in the Championships. “The quarterfinals were also important to us because we would be fighting for our 20th win this season,” Pyne explained, adding that the team experienced “Vassar’s first playoff win since being a part of the relatively-new UVC.”
Wolter added that the aims of the team go beyond athletics. “We set a goal of earning the AVCA Team Academic Award,” he stated. “To achieve this goal, we must maintain a 3.33 team GPA. I believe we are on track to receive this award once again.”
In addition to the results of the Championships, men’s volleyball earned recognition on an individual level. Elgin is second on the team with kills (257) and leads the team with 101 blocks and hitting percentage (.459), which makes him fourth in national rankings. This season he was named to the First Team All-UVC for the second consecutive year. Fellow senior Christian La Du is third on the team with 57 assists, has played in a team-high 105 sets and leads the Brewers with 258 digs. In 2012 he was named UVC Libero/Defensive Specialist of the year and UVC Honorable Mention, and this season picked up UVC Second Team honors.
With another year of volleyball finished, Pyne reflected on his time with the Brewers. “I’m proud to be a part of a team that is able to have so much fun together and play consistently at such a high level.”