Sometimes, a team’s record can be misleading. To call the Vassar College men’s volleyball 1-3 start to the season a disappointment would not be fair. After taking No. 4 ranked State University of New York New Paltz to the brink, the men’s volleyball team has, in fact, had a truly impressive start to this year. Furthermore, when you consider the loss of six valuable seniors from last year’s team, which went 20-13 overall including winning a round in the United Volleyball Conference (UVC) championship, and the fact that the current roster consists of only 12 men, the New Paltz win looks even more impressive. In addition to this, six of those 12 men on the roster are freshmen.
According to Head Coach Rob Wolter, the team’s main goal coming into the season was simply to be competitive. “My biggest expectation for this year’s team is to be able to compete day in and day out. We ultimately have nothing to lose! We expect ourselves to qualify for the conference tournament and we expect ourselves to achieve high marks in the classroom. Last semester, we had a team GPA of 3.5,” he explained in an emailed statement. “Looking at what we lost, it will be difficult to fill all the spots offensively. I believe Joe Pyne ’14 and Reno Kriz ’16 will step up immensely, as both have taken the responsibility to organize group events and they compliment each other extremely well on the court.”
In an emailed statement, senior co-captain Pyne wrote, “We lost five out of our seven starting players, which means that we needed to find two new middle hitters, a new outside hitter, a new starting setter and a new libero.” One of those positions, the libero, will be filled by freshmen Trey Cimorelli. Cimorelli has high expectations for the young team. “We are young and inexperienced. However, I think the young guys are stepping up to fill those roles,” he wrote.
“Colin White-Dzuro [’15] is doing an excellent job setting, and Colin Fearn-Johnson [’15] is stepping up outside. And Christian Lizana [’17] and Erik Halberg [’16] as middles are playing incredible. You could not ask more of Christian thus far, as a freshman libero-turned middle competing with multiple All-American’s and holding his own.”
Pyne also added, “We had a lot of players who are returners and who have a huge amount of experience who were never able to see the court with such a large graduating senior class.” He continued, “This season, our team is out to prove that, despite being a little undersized, we have a collective pool of incredibly talented players who compete and work harder than we ever have before. Teams will always underestimate us — and our job is to make them look foolish.”
Cimorelli has been incredibly impressed with his team thus far after not knowing what to expect as a freshman. “I am extremely excited for this season. Coming in, I was not sure how we would match up with everyone, especially because for me personally I had no previous experience at the DIII level and had no clue as to what the level of play would be. I do not think we could have played better through our first couple of matches,” he explained.
“We were extreme underdogs and hung with some of the DIII heavyweights. For that, I am extremely proud of the team, and eager to take on the rest of the schedule. I believe we have a chance to compete with all of the teams in the UVC and even make a run in the playoffs at the UVC Championships.”
Historically, the UVC is one of the nation’s top conferences for Division III volleyball. Coach Wolter made it known that this should not be an excuse for not winning. “Seven of the top 15 in the country are in the UVC, and so every conference match has the potential to be a dog fight,” he wrote. “That’s what I like about our conference, if we can compete at the top of our conference then we can compete with any team in the country!”
Pyne also added, “We will be battling it out for a playoff spot against a number of talented teams, and our season will depend on if we can consistently play the highest possible level.”
Both Pyne, Cimorelli and Head Coach Wolter emphasized the team’s strong chemistry as a reason for both the potential and success for the rest of this season.
The team had to come back about a week and a half early from winter break. However, Coach Wolter noted that this was not an issue for the team. “I think they were all excited to return and get started with our season. By this time, the guys had not played since the weekend before Thanksgiving, so they were anxious to get back,” he wrote. “This was also a time for the team to bond as I had them over to my house for many team meals and we went to the movies one night.”
That team chemistry has been precious and vital, and Cimorelli also touched upon the importance of team bonding: “This aspect of our team emerged in preseason and I think it has really brought us closer and strengthened the teammate relationships throughout the entire team.”
Pyne also added that preseason was the time the team had laid a foundation for that year’s success through hard work and practices. “Our preseason was tough considering we do not have a large roster, so we had to figure out how to balance our exhaustion with getting enough passing/hitting/serving reps on the court,” he wrote.
“We watched video, lifted, and spent time playing games to develop skills and game-plans to use later in the season that had to be tailored to our unique roster.” Pyne continued, “Volleyball is a sport that relies on team dynamics and manipulating the flow of the game, and this year we have been able to succeed both in having a strong team dynamic where we are all friends, and the ability to fight for every point and force opposing teams to earn every single point if they are going to beat us.”
Coach Wolter, after expecting the team to be competitive to start, has been happy coming into the season and looks forward to working with the potential of this year’s roster. “I am super excited to work with this group and I am excited to see what we will accomplish this season,” he wrote.
“I think we will surprise some teams if we have not already done so.”