The buzzword “electric” is abused in college. Used as a synonym for exciting, funny, absurd or just eye-catching, undergraduates reach for the word like a trusty blanket when they need to describe a remarkable situation. But thesaurus crutches like these are usually popular for a reason—they’re apt. In brainstorming adjectives to describe Vassar men’s volleyball 5-set defeat to the Pride of top-ranked Springfield College, I can’t describe the events of Wednesday, Feb. 12 with any other word. The game was electric.
Springfield ambled off the bus and into Kenyon Hall with the bold swagger only a team ranked first in the nation could own. Because, as it was, they were ranked first in the nation. Vassar, ranked second nationally, was unimpressed. After all, Springfield only held the number one ranking because the Brewers toppled the old top dogs, New Paltz, earlier in February.
When Springfield entered the gym, they faced an unusual phenomenon at a Vassar sporting event: a packed house. The bleachers, which cover one side of Kenyon’s volleyball gym, were packed with two hundred-odd students clad in white. A friend of mine sat on the floor next to the bleachers, so packed were the stands. For two hours, Kenyon Hall was transformed into a box of noise and vibration, like a square alarm clock. First-year middle blocker Gavin van Beveren described the crowd: “I love home games, and it was really exciting to see a lot of campus, a good chunk of people there.” Senior outside hitter Kevin Ros said that “We definitely react to that energy,” and the Brewers backed up his claim by taking the first set in commanding fashion, 25-16.
Throughout the game, Vassar head coach Richard Gary maintained a cool demeanor, sitting with his legs crossed and hardly uttering a word as his team tried to wrestle the nation’s top spot from the Pride. His laid-back style of in-game coaching is something his players appreciate greatly. First-year outside hitter Andrew Kim explained, “He doesn’t want to micromanage techniques, and as a player, you don’t want to be overthinking in the middle of a game.” Ros pointed out that Springfield’s assistants sit with computers in their laps and give real-time feedback to their players, making them aware of their own tendencies. These “micro-adjustments” are more commonly seen at the professional level, Ros said, and the Brewers know themselves well enough to prefer Gary’s zen to the Pride’s number-crunching. Van Beveren added, “If I were to receive too much information in the middle of a game, it might not be productive. For me this style of coaching is beneficial.”
Springfield roared back in the middle sets, taking the second and third by respective scores of 25-19 and 25-22. When Springfield outside hitter Jarrett Anderson slammed the ball into the floor on the Brewers’ side of the net to give the Pride a 2-1 lead, a deafening hush fell over the Vassar supporters. As Ros later reflected, however, “Yeah, they’re the number one seed, but they’re not unbeatable.” Van Beveren opened the fourth set with a thundering kill and kicked his right foot up like a pitcher delivering a windup, shouting in celebration as Kenyon erupted. The Brewers took the fourth set 25-22, setting the stage for a dramatic finale.
The fifth set couldn’t have been much closer. Springfield and Vassar traded points until the Brewers won three straight, capped off by a Kim kill. The Pride responded by running off three straight points of their own, taking a 9-8 lead. Every time a Springfield player served, the drumming of the crowd’s feet made the gym shake, and I couldn’t hear myself think. At 10-10, Vassar’s junior opposite Jefferson Waters slammed a kill and then crumpled onto the ground. Initial fears of a serious injury were assuaged when Waters’ calf began visibly pulsing as it cramped, sending disgusted but sympathetic tremors through the crowd. His strain sidelined him for the rest of the game, and first-year outside hitter Joseph Harrington took his place on the Vassar side. Van Beveren and Ros both said that Waters’ injury “disrupted our rhythm,” though they made clear in hindsight that they had overthought the substitution.
Vassar’s play was not hindered by the break. They took a 13-11 lead, and Springfield called a timeout with Vassar two points away from victory. The crowd started chanting, “Rattled! Rattled! Rattled!” The Brewers got three chances to close the game, leading 14-12, 14-13 and 15-14, but the Pride kept their foot in the door and eventually busted it open. Undaunted by the crowd, which hurled varied, clever and generally grandmother-approved verbal abuse at the visitors, Springfield came back and took the final set, 17-15.
The disappointment was palpable as my classmates and I trudged out of Kenyon, but the Brewers kept their heads up. Ros said, “We focus less on the result and more on positives and negatives. We take it not just one day at a time, but one practice at a time, one lift at a time.”
One day at a time, the Brewers also mentor each other. Kim said, “One thing that’s different is you have 22-year-olds on the team. I don’t really consider myself an adult yet, so it’s great to have role models to talk to in this big transition year.” Ros concurred, adding, “It’s different being a first-year looking in and then being a senior looking at the other side of the fence. My goal as a senior is to create an environment where everyone can be their best, and I want that environment to be around after I leave.”
So what’s next for the Brewers? A weekend series against Stevens and Elms Colleges (as of printing, the Brewers went 1-1), and then a long slate of games before conference playoffs begin on April 10. Though they plan on making a run at an NCAA championship, the Brewers aren’t looking past the present. This is encapsulated in the team’s motto, which Ros shared: “What’s the most important day of the season? Today.”