The Vassar men’s volleyball team has strung together multiple dominant performances to secure a 7-1 record over the past three weeks. The team often credits its recent success to the challenges faced against strong competition on its West Coast trip, as well as the leadership of first-year Head Coach Richard Gary and the new system that he brought with him.
Junior Matt Knigge, a pre-season all-American, stated, “I think we had a very tough schedule from the start, so coming back from winter break with a short pre-season its always hard to get into your groove right away. Especially with a new coach there are some inevitable growing pains. So I think that we have just gotten our act together and gotten used to a new coach and new system.”
After a long string of away matches, the Brewers finally hosted their first home games of the season on Friday, Feb. 10 and Saturday, Feb. 11. Over the weekend, Vassar defeated all four of their opponents, leaving their home record unscathed.
Vassar first took on Johnson and Wales University, winning decisively in only three sets with scores of 25-14, 25-16 and 25-12. The Brewers hit at .343 percent while stifling the Wildcats to a -0.29 hitting percentage. Notably, freshman Ghali Khalil notched his first career kill in the third set.
Later that day, the Stevenson Mustangs were able to take Vassar to a fourth set as they won the third set narrowly by a score of 26-24. Despite the falter in the third round, the Brewers contained Stevenson much more easily in the other sets with scores of 25-21, 25-17 and 25-13 in the first, second and fourth sets respectively. With this win, the team moved to 2-0 on the day.
Lee was especially important in this match as he dished out 45 assists. Lee had a hand in nearly half of the points scored against Stevenson.
The Brewers came out firing on Saturday morning after their two wins the previous day. They took down the Ramapo Roadrunners in three sets. While sophomore George Diehl had a great match offensively with nine kills, the Vassar defense stole the show. Knigge and Lee led the court in blocks with eight and seven respectively.
Senior Quinn Rutledge gave his best performance of the season to lead the Brewers to their fourth win of the weekend. Saturday afternoon Vassar beat the Dolphins of Mount St. Vincent 3-1 with scores of 25-21, 25-17, 22-25 and 25-19.
Rutledge had 11 kills, one ace, three blocks and six digs in the effort. While many of the statistical categories were relatively even between the Brewers and Dolphins, Vassar had a major edge in aces and blocks.
Much of the Brewer’s success throughout their first home weekend can be attributed to the home atmosphere and fans that came to support the team.
“Finally playing at home after a month on the road was great. We weren’t even in our usual gym but I think we all had a great time. The energy the fans brought was amazing and we really fed off their excitement. It always helps to have a great home crowd because it sets the other team back a bit while picking us up and I think that played a bit part in our dominance during that weekend,” Lizana commented.
Also thrilled with the crowd, Coach Gary smiled, “This has been the most supportive and friendly community I’ve encountered, from the students, faculty and the incredible athletics department staff. I continue to marvel at the hard working, positive and actively engaged community here, and helping our team to bring their best to the home crowd was very, very special.”
The following Saturday, the Brewers were on the road again in Elmira, NY, to play both the hosts Elmira College and No. 2 Stevens Institute of Technology.
After dropping the first set 19-25, the Brewers successfully pulled off the upset of the No.2 ranked team with scores of 25-18, 25-20 and 25-22 in the remaining rounds.
Lizana, Rutledge and Knigge led the offensive effort with 13, 12 and 10 kills respectively. The three hitters combined for 35 of the teams’ 47 total kills. Defensively, Vassar’s 18 kills tied for the second-most in a game ever at Vassar.
“The win against Stevens was incredible. I had never beaten Stevens in my time here. We were able to find our groove and everything just clicked and it felt great. We passed very well which allowed Zech to run our offense with very little problems,” Lizana explained.
“Stevens never knew where the ball was going to go, which gave all our hitters great opportunities to score and continued the excitement we were feeling,” Lizana continued, “Our great blocking challenged their hitters and they could not figure out a way to get passed us. Overall it was just a great team effort in which everyone stepped up in the area in which we needed them to excel.”
Also reflecting on the match, Knigge stated, “It was a great win. We had 18 total team blocks which is almost unheard of in men’s volleyball. But that was our strategy coming in and we were able to find our groove and come through when we needed it.”
Just hours after their monumental win over Stevens, the Brewers easily defeated Elmira in three sets. Rutledge, Diehl and Knigge tied for a team-high seven kills, as the offense was well-balanced with the help of Lee’s 28 assists. This win gives VC a 2-0 start in their United Volleyball Conference action.
Vassar faces its next game, arguably the toughest of the season, in the form of a rematch with No. 1 Springfield on Feb. 22 in Kenyon Hall.
“Our team culture is getting stronger every day, and we continue to develop the confidence and focus to play to our potential. This match will be another great opportunity to see an offense unlike any in DIII men’s volleyball and to respond by playing our own unique style of play,” shared Coach Gary.
He continued, “I would expect nothing less than a war, and the tougher it is for us, the more it will feed our resolve to have a deep run this season where we might be able to face them again in the NCAA’s.”