Men’s volleyball strives to block out the competition

The Brewers huddle together as they look to their coach and one another for inspiration in the upcoming game. The men look forward to a strong, successful spring season. Photo By: Vassar College Athletics
The Brewers huddle together as they look to their coach and one another for inspiration in the upcoming game. The men look forward to a strong, successful spring season. Photo By: Vassar College Athletics
The Brewers huddle together as they look to their coach and one another for inspiration in the upcoming game. The men look forward to a strong, successful spring season. Photo By: Vassar College Athletics

Vassar’s Men’s volleyball team kicks off its season with their home opener on Thursday, January 29th against NYU on the Brewer’s home turf in the Kenyon Hall gymnasium. The men have found success on the road so far this 2015 season, gaining some important experience at the SUNYIT Tournament and being slated 7th in the Liberty League. To add to their accolades, Matt Knigge, a freshman from New Egypt, NJ, was named the United Volleyball Conference Co-Rookie of the week for his performance at the tournament.

After going 10-21 last season, the Brewers are setting specific goals to meet in the coming months. “Our goals are to get back to the UVC playoffs, and to not just settle if/when we get there. Also, we’d like to get back into the national rankings.” said Reno Kriz, the junior captain and right side hitter from Breinigsville, PA. Christian Lizana, sophomore outside hitter and libero from Dublin, PA, elaborated on Kriz’s point, saying “I think that this year we, as a team, have agreed that, while we want to take things one at a time, we are determined to not only make the conference playoffs, but to win that first round game. We believe that this is definitely an attainable goal, but we’re are going to have to work hard to get there.”

One of the men’s biggest strengths this season is their depth. A strong freshman class of four has helped lengthen the bench for the Brewers, who struggled coping with injury and absence last season. “A strength of our team is that we are a very close-knit group,” said Kriz. The depth coming from underclassmen can be a blessing and a curse. Lizana elaborates, “Definitely a strength, at least from last year, is that we have more bodies on the team, and not only bodies but talented players that can fill much needed roles. I think that we will also have some younger players making big contributions. Perhaps while some inexperience now, hopefully it will transition to composed experience later this year and in the following seasons.” The team only lost one senior player last year, captain Joe Pyne, which contributed to the team’s youth, said Kriz, “A weakness of our team is that, despite only losing one senior from last year, we are still relatively inexperienced.”

First impressions are lasting, so the Brewers intend to set the tone of their season with their first few matches. “We have been working very hard in pre-season and I hope that we can keep up that effort as we transition towards the start of games,” said Lizana, “The way that we start the season will be key in setting the tone for the rest of it I think.”

So far there have been several obstacles keeping Vassar from having a smooth start. First of all, Kriz explains, “Our senior setter and captain, Colin White-Dzuro, had to have surgery in the fall, so we’ve had to start the season without him. However, he is expecting to come back in the next week or so.” The Brewers have also had to adjust their offence with the 2015 personnel. “Also, we are relatively undersized in the front row, as we were last year,” said Kriz “so we’ll have to make smarter decision when attacking, and not get frustrated when we are struggling to terminate the play.” But their enthusiasm and resilience will serve them well as they move forward.

The crowd and the team’s energy is expected to carry them through their opening matches, according to Lizana, “I am very excited just in general for the season as a whole. We have a great group of guys that I am excited to play with, and I think that everyone will contribute greatly to the goals we have set and to pushing the better teams and hopefully getting some wins out of those tough games. The season opener, this year against NYU, will be a great atmosphere if we can get people into the stands, and seeing our efforts payoff will be very satisfying.”

Down the road, VC will go toe to toe with some formidable opponents. Kriz details the teams he thinks will pose the biggest challenges, saying, “Our toughest match-ups this season will likely be most of our conference games, since the UVC is a very competitive conference, including our matches against Stevens, NYU, SUNY New Paltz, and Nazareth. In addition, we play 3-time defending national champions Springfield.” Lizana believes that mental toughness will be the key to staying strong during their hardest matches, “We will face some very talented opponents, often in tournament style settings. The key to these matches will be to remain focused and disciplined, while both mentally and physically tired. I am hoping that we will be able to push teams to the edge and get those key wins due to our perseverance.”

Team chemistry and character will carry the Brewers through a successfull season. Lizana recalls his favorite memories of the season so far, “I think that my favorite moment of the season so far was just getting to hang out and bond with the guys, who are not only my teammates but my best friends. It’s a great group, from the freshmen to the seniors. Seeing everyone come together to create intense, competitive practices was really exciting and gets you thinking about the potential success we will have this season.” The team does not only focus on volleyball, Kriz explains, “My favorite moment so far is when we went to a soup kitchen to feed some of the homeless people of Poughkeepsie. It was nice to put everything we’re doing into perspective, and give back to the community.”

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