The Vassar College men’s volleyball team is set to begin competing in the playoffs of the United Volleyball Conference (UVC) on Friday, April 10 in Hoboken, N.J. at No. 1 Stevens Institute of Technology. This year’s postseason appearance marks the third showing in four years for the Brewers in the playoff tournament. The team opens up their postseason play against No. 3 Nazareth College. With three wins this weekend, the team would be able to punch their ticket to the NCAA tournament.
One strong member of this year’s team has been junior right side and captain, Reno Kriz. Kriz has been a workhorse throughout his entire career. In 2014, he played in all 115 sets of the Brewers campaign, the most in Vassar history, and also led the team with 424 kills, the fifth-highest in Vassar history. This year he leads the team in kills again but as a part of a much more balanced attack, has recorded 259 kills in 89 sets. He ranks in the top 10 in the UVC in both kills and service aces this season.
Kriz is also a big reason why the Brewers were able to make the playoffs this year. Last week he had a strong impact in every game he played and was an important part of the Brewers 2-1 run that helped them into the playoffs. Kriz averaged 3.12 kills and 1.62 digs per set last week as well as a team-best five-service aces to help pace the Brewers. During the Brewers’ four-set playoff spot clinching victory against Penn State-Behrend, Kriz produced 15 kills, 11 digs and three total blocks.
In an emailed statement, Kriz explained his role on the team and how crucial it really is. “I play on the right side. Since I am not one of the primary passers, my job is basically to always be ready to hit, especially on plays where we are out of system (when someone besides the setter is setting, or when the setter needs to chase down a bad pass).”
Despite a drop-off in his individual numbers this year, Kriz currently has the 8th most kills in school history with 960 in his career. He’s just one kill away from 7th place, the 961 set by All-American Matt Elgin ’13 during his career at Vassar. But, Kriz’s job on the right side of the court remains integral to the team’s success and he has had a lot more support on the attack from his teammates than in years past.
Kriz explained how his own statistical drop-off actually represents this year’s more balanced, offensively talented team. “Last season, we really only had myself and Joe Pyne as consistent offensive options, with several players playing out of position and others being hurt, so I had a lot more opportunities. This season, while my individual numbers are down, we’ve done a good job spreading the ball around more on offense. With Freshmen Matt Knigge and Jorge Rivera, Sophomores Quinn Rutledge and Christian Lizana, and Junior Erik Halberg really stepping up, I haven’t needed to take as many swings as last season, and that’s probably a big reason why we’ve been more successful this season.”
Kriz, a second-year captain, is part of a team that features just two seniors, two juniors, four sophomores and four freshmen. Despite the young team, the Brewers rebounded from a 10-12 (3-8 UVC) record last season to an impressive 18-12 (3-5 UVC) record.
Kriz praised his team’s efforts this year and in the off season and recognized their potential for the future. “I’m very happy about the team’s performance this season. We’ve worked hard all year, with a lot of guys getting in the weight room. Even though we’ve had a couple games that we shouldn’t have lost, we are a very young team, so these inconsistencies will happen. What matters most is that we won the games that really mattered, which is a big step up from last year, where we always seemed to come up just short.”
A difficult game from last year’s season proved Kriz’s favorite during his career. “One of my favorite games was when we played Sacred Heart last season, a Division 1 opponent. We had played them in the fall, and they had just crushed us. In the rematch though, we actually managed to beat them in five sets, which was our first five-set win of the season. After all the five-set losses we had that year, it was just nice to have one game where it felt like everything finally came together, and we were able to close it out.”
Kriz has strong expectations for this weekend’s upcoming game. “Coming into this season, we wanted to make it back to our conference tournament, and at least win our first round game. We’ve done the first part of that, but I’d like to pull off at least one more upset this weekend. We’ve lost to Nazareth twice this season, but we’re ready, and I think we have a good shot at surprising them on Friday.”
One of Kriz’s most important roles this year has been one of leadership. With Elgin’s graduation and so few seniors, Kriz’s role as captain has been necessary in helping to guide the underclassmen in their transition to Vassar and playing at a high level. He’s been integral to not just the on-court play during games, but also to helping keep the team strong and close. Kriz cites leadership as one of the goals he had coming into this season. “My individual goals were to get to 1,000 kills, and to find a way to better lead the team, since I felt like last season, not being used to a leadership role, I sort of struggled. I don’t think I’ll make my statistical goal. But, thanks to fellow captains [Sophomore] Trey Cimorelli and [Senior] Colin White-Dzuro, we’ve done a better job creating a better overall team atmosphere this season, which will hopefully carry over into next year.”