The Vassar College men’s volleyball team had a banner season this spring. The men capped the year with 24 wins to only seven losses and several wins against not only top-15 teams in the country but also a pair of wins over top-10 nationally-ranked squads. Although their season ended in just the second round of the United Volleyball Conference playoff tournament, the Brewers still lay claim to a high degree of success, including national recognition as No. 8 in the country for Division III.
One can look to several standout performers to explain why the Vassar men’s volleyball team had such a successful run this year.
At the close of the season, the UVC recognized four members of the squad as some of the best and most outstanding performers in the UVC, without a doubt one of the most competitive conferences in Division III. Vassar men’s volleyball has never had this many players nab All-UVC in a single season.
Junior Trey Cimorelli earned Libero of the Year for his defensive contributions, while senior right-side Reno Kriz was named to the All-UVC Second Team. Cimorelli notched further accolades as the UVC named gave him an Honorable Mention. Sophomore setter Zechariah Lee also received a All-UVC Honorable Mention for his dominant offensive play throughout the course of the season.
The UVC awarded sophomore 6’9” middle-hitter Matthew Knigge with a spot on the All-UVC First Team for his noteworthy play for the Brewers. This recognition was just the start of a litany of awards Knigge would rack up after the conclusion of the season.
In addition to earning a spot on the All-UVC First Team, the New Egypt, NJ native garnered a slot on the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC) First Team. The American Volleyball Coaches Association also selected Knigge as a First-Team All-American for Division III, the highest accolade for an athlete.
Knigge is the 10th Vassar student-athlete to earn this honor. He joins five other men’s volleyball alums, including John Kessenich and Phil Tully, who were named First- Team selections in 2008 and 2009.
While the sophomore is the sole All-American on the current team, he downplays the individual nature of his accomplishments and credits this year’s strong play to his teammates.
“[B]eing named an All-American is a great honor and everyone always congratulates me on the accomplishment but I can’t stress enough how much this is a team award. Volleyball is an extremely team-oriented sport. Every ball that I touch comes from one of my teammates. So without them, I can’t do much,” the sophomore said.
Achieving this nation-wide recognition wasn’t something that factored into Knigge’s preparation for his training this season. Instead, it was something that came about as a product of these efforts.
“I don’t think I ever really thought about it that way. We always start off our season setting team and personal goals. [E]ach player performed to their own standards and the accolades are just a byproduct of working towards these big-picture targets,” Knigge said.
The team as a whole accomplished many of its goals. The group progressed past the first round of post-season conference play at the UVC tournament and most notably rose significantly in the national rankings. Although Knigge emphasizes his accolades as something that his teammates allowed him to attain, his individual contributions to the team’s successes are undeniable.
Over the course of the season, Knigge distinguished himself as a highly efficient hitter, closing out the season with a percentage of .502, placing him second overall in the UVC behind Steven Woessner of SUNY New Paltz, the NCAA DIII National Champion.
The Brewers defeated many highly ranked teams, including then number-six Nazareth College and former number-nine Elmira College The sophomore stood out in the win over Nazareth with nine kills, six blocks and one ace. In the latter match, Knigge contributed nine kills, five blocks and two aces.
The sophomore further separated himself from the competition by finishing first in the conference in blocks, averaging 1.25 per sets played and racking up 140 overall blocks in 112 sets played.
The stand-out middle also played an integral role to the Brewer squad his freshman year. In the 101 sets he played, Knigge had 28 service aces, 224 kills and totaled 310 points throughout the year.
Not to mention he led the Brewers in hitting percentage with a .388 and was fourth in the UVC in blocks per set with an average of 1.01. Furthermore, he knotched 28 aces, 53 digs, 14 solo blocks and avaeraged 2.22 kills per set.
Knigge contributed 88 assisted blocks, the second most in a single season in Vassar volleyball history. On two separate occations, the middle also posted a career-high of 14 kills in a game.
Knigge’s impressive freshman statistics earned him the UVC Rookie of the Week twice. Although Knigge excelled as a freshman, his statistics have improved significantly since.
“Matt is a great example of how hard work in the offseason can drastically improve a player’s game,” Cimorelli said, “He finished his freshman year with average national stats and national recognition. He worked really hard in the offseason to get a lot stronger and more dynamic as a player, which resulted in his outstanding season.”
Knigge’s strong statistical records combined with his cohesive play led him to garner many other awards prior to his All-American recognition. The middle earned the AVCA National Player of the Week once and the UVC Player of the Week accolade twice this season. A Brewer hadn’t won the AVCA award since Phil Tully in 2010.
He first received Player of the Week after his efficient performance at the season-opener Wildcat Invitational. In the tournament, the Brewers went undefeated after besting the then-No. 11 Kean University, RV Wentworth, Wells and host SUNY Polytechnic.
Knigge committed only eight errors, hit at a rate of .593, and racked up 40 kills during the weekend’s play. He also tallied 11 total blocks throughour the weekend Along with the Player of the Week accolade, Knigge earned co-MVP in the tournament.
The UVC again gave Knigge Player of the Week recognition for his strong performance against Hunter and Baruch Colleges. During the match against Baruch, Knigge contributed 10 blocks, the third most in a single match in Vassar volleyball history.
“[Matt] is a dominating force at the net, both on offesive and defensive. His size and athleticism make him a huge factor for our team,” Cimorelli said.
Considering the extensive list of statistical categories Knigge leads or nearly leads, as well as the other conference and national awards he’s compiled this season, it is no surprise the Brewer standout reached All-American status.
Head Coach Robert Wolter is proud of both Knigge’s performance this season and the high recognition he gained as a result. Coach Wolter, who took over for Jonathan Penn as the 11th coach for the team, admires Knigge for his individual skills as well as his team mentality.
“I’m extremely proud of what he accomplished this season and am looking forward to working with him for another two seasons,” Coach Wolter said. “He is a great leader on and off the court and a great representation of Vassar College men’s volleyball on the national stage.”
After achieving all he has for the Brewers this year, Knigge has a lot to mull over and reflect on during the offseason. Again, the sophomore remains humble and prefers to highlight how his team performed around him, instead of how he himself performed.
“After this season and receiving the All-American award I hope that my team and I have brought Vassar men’s volleyball back onto the national stage. We just have to build off of this year’s success and work harder to continue to move through the national rankings and hopefully into the national tournament next year,” Knigge said.
The sophmore hopes to use this recognition as a springboard for continued future success and that his team can do the same.