This past weekend, Vassar rounded up an incredible season at the United Volleyball Conference Semifinals at New Paltz. Vassar had a 23-6 record going into the tournament in what has been an extremely successful season for the Brewers on both an individual and team level. This is the third time Vassar has ever won over 20 games. The team has welcomed UVC Rookie of the Week awards for freshmen George Diehl and Daniel Halberg, along with a UVC Player of the Week for Matthew Knigge. Perhaps most historic was senior captain Reno Kriz’s eclipsing of 1,000 kills. The team climbed the polls throughout the year as well, going from No. 15 on Jan. 30, all the way up to No. 8 by the time of the UVC Playoff Tournament.
Playing a varsity sport is not an easy task as many on this campus have experience and have known exactly how difficult at times it is to juggle a busy schedule. “I am most proud about how our athletes manage their daily college life while being a studentathlete at Vassar. We talked as a team before the season even started that our growth as team is going to happen outside our scheduled practice times and if we wanted to get to where we are now it is going to require some sacrifices and time management,” said Coach Wolter. “We talk about the importance of coming in early or staying late on practice days, we talk about finding time to come in and watch video individually so we can fine tune their skills. This process starts in August/ September when they arrive back on campus and they must balance their academic rigors and social life simultaneously! It’s outstanding how they make it all work and it makes all our accomplishment that much better!” he added.
The team has come a long way since the beginning of the season, refining and retooling the intricacies that have gotten them to the UVC Tournament. Coach Wolter explained, “The biggest improvement has been our depth on the outside, players who started out as reserve players have been valuable contributors throughout the season and this allows us to make adjustment as needed.” This provided the team the flexibility and added potential it needs to excel beyond its competitors as they venture into a tournament where they had only advanced past the initial round one time.
Junior captain Trey Cimorelli expressed his thoughts on the playoffs heading into the weekend: “I’m looking forward to being able to compete in a very fun atmosphere and play really high level volleyball … We have proven that we can play with and beat any team in our conference.”
This past weekend was to be the culmination of the Brewers’ successful spring campaign. Before the tournament, Coach Wolter said, “We’ve had high expectations coming into this event ever since the beginning of the year! We always felt that we were good enough to make the tournament and we want to take the next step as a program and advance past the first round of conference play.”
The Brewers had tough competition all around for this tournament. “We play in the toughest league in the country, with six teams ranked in the top 15 of the country, every opponent we play in the league is tough,” said Coach Wolter. Going into Saturday, Vassar was seeded No. 8 and matched up against No. 12 New York University, a long-time rival. Prior to the weekend, junior Christian Lizana added, “We played [NYU] twice already, splitting with them, so this third time will be the most important and most intense I think. I feel that we can win the first round game and continue further in the conference tournament and potentially get a bid to the national tournament. When we’re on, we’re a great team, and I am excited to see that come out.”
The Brewers did not disappoint in the first round, defeating NYU 3-2. Vassar then moved up to No. 6 to face off against No. 2 Stevens Institute of Technology during the semifinals. The team managed to squeak out the first set 25-23, but couldn’t quite crack the Ducks and ultimately lost three sets to one.
Despite the loss in the tournament, the winning game against NYU was the second time ever for the Vassar Men’s Volleyball program to win in the UVC tournament. The team’s historic season can be attributed to the hard work they put in on and off the court. “I believe we have a lot of strengths, as of late, we have been an extremely strong blocking team and we have the best libero in the conference so our serve receive and defense is also strong! Most of all, I think we are an extremely cohesive unit, we have common goals and we work extremely hard on a daily basis focusing on the process or the task at hand,” said Coach Wolter.
This was the last season for seniors Reno Kriz and Erik Halberg. Kriz is the right side for the team and has played in the most sets and matches for Vassar in the team’s history. He also sits at third all-time most kills with 1,352 total. Halberg is a senior middle from Delaware and has been crucial in this season’s successes.
On the other end of the age spectrum, freshman Austin Gibbs has had an impactful first year on the team. He shared, ”One of the things I value the most about my team is just how welcoming and supportive they all are. I came into the program very quiet and reserved and I feel like I’ve grown a lot both on and off the court because of my teammates. They’ve seen me at my worst and they’ve seen me at my best and I can’t even begin to express how thankful I am for how patient and supportive they have been.“