The Vassar men’s volleyball team has been having a banner season, notching win after win and consistently ranking in the top 10 in the country. The Brewers will enter postseason play in the United Volleyball Conference this Friday with a current national ranking of eighth. Vassar has compiled an overall record of 23-7, going 7-3 at home, 8-3 away and 8-0 at neutral competition sites, while recording a 4-4 record throughout the course of in-conference competition. The team has had some especially noteworthy wins: over nationally fifth-ranked Nazareth College in five sets, national No. 9 Elmira College in four sets, 11th-ranked Kean University in three sets, as well as most recently against No. 13 nationally-ranked New York University, bringing their head-to-head record for the season to 1-1.
A number of players have contributed to the very successful regular season with outstanding performances. Senior right side and captain Reno Kriz has been continuing his successful on-court career for Vassar this season. Playing in all 29 of the Brewers’ matches, he has recorded 4.01 points per set played, 3.41 kills per set, taking his career total for kills over 1,000 in just the fourth match of his senior year.
Sophomore middle hitter Matthew Knigge has been a consistent performer for Vassar as well, posting 3.82 points per set, 2.73 kills per set, as well as boasting a hitting percentage of .511 throughout the course of all 29 matches. He was named the United Volleyball Conference’s (UVC) player of the week once, as well as being named the Sports Import/American Volleyball Coaches Association’s (AVCA) National Player of the Week, the first recognition of this kind for Vassar College since 2010.
He was awarded these honors for his performance at the season-opening Wildcat Invitational, which was hosted by SUNY Poly. He was also named Co-MVP of the tournament in recognition of his .593 hitting percentage and 40 kills over the course of Vassar’s four matches.
Another key to the success of the Brewer Men’s Volleyball team this season has been the consistent play of freshman outside hitter George Diehl. The 6’4” first-year student-athlete was a four-year letter-winner out of Lindbergh High School in St. Louis, MO. Head coach Robert Wolter had nothing but good things to say about the freshman. “[George] is willing to do anything you ask him to do without question. He has the ability to play multiple positions at an extremely high level.”
During his time at Lindberg, Diehl established himself as one of the best high school volleyball players in the state of Missouri. He was named an All-Suburban West selection during his sophomore, junior and senior years as well as being named an All-State MVP selection after his junior year. During that year, he helped lead his school to a State title.
He was further recognized as his team’s MVP for his senior year of high school. Diehl finished his time at Lindbergh High having broken two school records for kills per game with an average of 5.9 and for kills per match, with an average of 26 as well. Throughout his high school career he also posted a hitting percentage of .460 and posted 996 kills overall. He was a leader for his team, serving as a captain for his final three season’s of his high school career.
Diehl was not just a standout athlete, but was also a very strong student. In addition to receiving various accolades for his performances on court (both at the school and statewide level), he garnered further recognition for his performance in the classroom. Diehl was awarded All-Academic honors for each of his high school years in addition to graduating as an AP Scholar and an AP Scholar with Honors. In terms of academic direction, Diehl plans on pursuing a major in Biochemistry during his time here at Vassar.
Volleyball has been a significant part of Diehl’s life as he began playing volleyball for a very early age. “I’ve played volleyball since third grade [and I’ve] played club since sixth grade for High Performance Volleyball Club,” Diehl said when asked about his time spent playing volleyball prior Vassar. Although, it is no wonder that he has been so successful during his volleyball career. Volleyball runs deep in George’s veins as he is not the only member of his family to play the sport, “My parents met playing volleyball,” he added.
However, it is still remarkable that he has made such an impact in only the first year of his collegiate career at Vassar. Throughout the course of the rather long season, he has started in 22 out of 29 games. As a result of his strong performances in these games, Diehl picked up a pair of UVC Rookie of the Week mentions.
Teammate, junior Christian Lizana, spoke about Diehl’s impact, saying, “I sometimes forget that he’s just a freshman because he fits right in with us upperclassmen so well. He’s a great teammate because he helps with the competitiveness of practices and gets pumped up on the court. There’s a great mix of his light-hearted humor and drive for success. And off the court he is one of the funniest dudes around.”
His first recognition from the conference came after contributing solid performances when Vassar faced college of Mt. Saint Vincent, Penn State-Behrend and Bard College late in February. All three contests, in which Diehl played in all but one set, ended in victory for the Brewers. Diehl posted 13 kills across the three matches, while hitting at a clip of .407 (13-2-27). He also contributed to a handful of helpful digs and assists.
George earned his second UVC Rookie of the Week mention after a weekend of competition that saw Vassar take down York College, No. 9 Elmira College, and fall in competitive fashion to the No. 1 team in the country in DIII Volleyball, Vassar’s in-state rival, SUNY New Paltz. Diehl was instrumental in all three contests, as he recorded a hitting percentage of .313, recorded 16 kills, and five blocks in the conference matchups against Elmira and New Paltz. The matchup with Elmira College was perhaps the most crucial part of the season, as the victory allowed the Brewers to clinch a spot in the postseason conference tournament.
Despite his success, this season has not come without its challenges for Diehl as he has switched to middle. Lizana spoke to the adjustment, explaining, “He’s handled it very well and provided great athleticism and volleyball IQ for us in the middle. He has great court awareness and is much more athletic and quick than he looks, and surprises other teams with his fast transition plays.” Junior captain Trey Cimorelli added, “Having a second solid middle to compliment both the offense and defense has been huge for our success and is definitely a large part of why we are having such a successful season.” Coach Wolter explained the intricacies of the position: “George’s main responsibility as the second middle is to block or slow down balls and he ranks sixth in the conference against UVC opponents.” Diehl also ranks 36 in the country for blocks per set.
Despite a spectacularly successful season, the Vassar men’s volleyball team members are not willing to rest on their laurels and are very much still hungry. Diehl is certainly no exception. When asked to reflect on how the season played out as well as what he hopes to accomplish in moving forward, the emerging star offered, “I think we’ve had a good season so far with only a couple bad losses against MIT and NYU. My goal is to make it past NYU and probably Stevens in the UVC tournament to make it to the finals.”
Notwithstanding how well the team has performed, the main focus appears to be on continuing to perform well for the competition ahead. However, their hopes for continued success will not come easily. The Brewers definitely have their work cut out for them in the UVC tournament. They were labeled as the No. 6 seed in the conference bracket, despite ranking eighth in the country. This may give them a slight advantage as they will hopefully face a lower-ranked team in their earlier rounds.
The first opponent that the Brewers will face as they enter the conference tournament will be a tough but familiar one, NYU, currently ranked No. 13 in the country. The last time out against the Violets, Diehl had an efficient day, registering an impressive hitting percentage of .571, the best percentage for any player on either side of the net. Diehl picked up three kills, hit two aces and recorded a trio of digs and blocks in the three-set win for Vassar. Diehl will hope to continue his productive rookie season and recreate his efficient play to help his team notch a second win over NYU in as many weeks, and most importantly, to keep their postseason alive.