SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – April 12, 2008 – For the fifth time in program history, the Springfield College men’s volleyball team can call themselves national champions. In front of a raucous crowd of 1,300, the Pride captured the 2008 Molten Division III Men’s Invitational Championship by sweeping Vassar in three games.
In dominating fashion, the #2-seeded and #2 ranked Pride defeated the #4-seeded and #3-ranked Vassar by the scores of 30-26, 30-24, 30-20. With the win, Springfield won its 20th match of the season, and is now 20-6. Vassar fell to 26-7.
“All season, everyone has been on our side, whether it be our families or all our great fans,” said All-Tournament team selection AJ Nally (Rochester, N.Y.). “Tonight, everything came to fruition for our volleyball program and I couldn’t be happier”
Nally led the way for the Pride as he recorded a double-double, hammering out 12 kills at a .357 clip to go along with a match-high 10 digs. He also recorded four blocks for the Pride.
“We really turned the corner as a team in our last NYU match,” said head coach Charlie Sullivan. “That is when we started to work as a group instead of as individuals. This season, as it always is, is a process. That’s why I think we have continued to stay successful, because we are process-oriented. “
After a pair of outstanding showings directing the Pride attack, sophomore Eric Shoemaker (Mount Wolf, Pa.) was tabbed the Most Outstanding Player of the Invitational. Shoemaker directed his team to a .361 hitting percentage in the match, as he dished out 42 assists and registered seven blocks.
“After finishing third last year at the Molten’s, and after realizing that we were going to host it this year, we as a group knew we had to work hard and stay focused to achieve one of our goals,” said Shoemaker. “Tonight, everything clicked for us and it was a great team effort.”
Springfield’s other all-tournament selection proved why he was the AVCA national Division III Newcomer of the Year this season as Cal Palumbo (Hilton, N.Y.) dominated at his middle blocker position. The freshman registered a hitting percentage of .600, as he notched 11 kills to go along with six blocks.
The first game started like a ball of fire, high intensity, hard-hitting by both teams. It was tight throughout, but only tied three times, the last at 19-19. Springfield went on a three point run to push ahead 22-19 and basically traded points with the Brewers until registering a 30-26 win. At a key stretch, Palumbo brought the crowd to its feet after he crushed a ball out of the middle to give SC a 25-22 advantage.
Leading 15-13, the Pride, playing off the energy of a capacity crowd, started to pull away in the second game. A major presence at the net all night, Nally and Palumbo teamed up for a double block that went straight down, sending SC’s crowd into a frenzy once again. Springfield eventually went on to lead by as many as nine as it grabbed the second game, and was now just one game away from the championship billing.
Continuing to click on all cylinders as it had all match, the Pride made no mistake as it jumped all over the Brewers in the third game. Springfield took control of the third game at 15-10 following a series of blocks and powerful kills by Nally who was all over the court. A sensational kill from Javier Rosario (San Juan, Puerto Rico) gave SC a 21-13 lead, its largest of the game. Ryan Fredrickson (Cedar Run, N.J.) and Andy Sipe (New Oxford, Pa.) combined for the squad’s 13th team block of the night at 29-20, and a Vassar hitting error completed the Pride’s championship victory.
“It’s the best I’ve seen Springfield play – ever,” said Vassar head coach Jonathan Penn. “They (Springfield) can’t play any better than they played tonight. They were unbelievable. Our guys stepped up – Steve (Micucci) and Scott (Leserman) had great matches, but Springfield was too good.”
Fredrickson finished with a match-high 15 kills and was nearly unstoppable all night as he and Shoemaker really clicked from the get go. The Pride amassed 24 block assists in the match and held Vassar to a .124 hitting percentage as a team.
Vassar was led by Evan Frederickson who recorded 11 kills, while teammate Scott Leserman notched 10 kills and a team-high 9 digs. John Kessenich had 42 set assists.
Last night, Springfield had beaten #3-seeded Juniata, 3 games 1, while #4-seeded Vassar had upset #1-seeded and #1-ranked UC Santa Cruz, 3 games to 0.
In a very-evenly played opening match of the evening tonight, the consolation match, UC Santa Cruz defeated Juniata, 31-29, 30-25, 25-30, 32-30. Last night, UC Santa Cruz had become the first #1 seed to lose in the semifinals since 2001. The Banana Slugs had finished second in this tourney in 2006, and third in 2004. Juniata had been the four-time defending national champion, and was making its tournament-record ninth appearance overall.
With the win, UC Santa Cruz raised its record to 15-11, while Juniata fell to 10-14.
Bryan Shires, the AVCA National Division III Player of the Year, led his UC Santa Cruz squad with 15 kills. Others who recorded in double figures in kills for the Banana Slugs included Art Mueller with 13, and Alex Schwartz and Brice Dahlmeier with 12 apiece. Eric Rowell finished with 53 set assists and hit .667 with 6 kills on 9 swings. Jeff Hogg also contributed 11 digs.
For Juniata, Zach Wanner finished with a match-high 23 kills, hitting .340 in the process. Dan Powers finished with 13 kills, hitting .400, and Craig Harvey finished with 11 kills. Matt Werle finished with 57 set assists, adding 6 digs. Dan Follett led his team with a team-high 9 digs. Matt Fritz added 8 digs.
UC Santa Cruz won the first two games, before dropping one, finally winning on a controversial "into-the-net" call by Juniata on the deciding point of game #4.
All Tournament Team
AJ Nally - Springfield
Cal Palumbo - Springfield
Eric Shoemaker - Springfield
Steve Micucci - Vassar
John Kessenich - Vassar
Bryan Shires - UC Santa Cruz
Zach Wanner - Juniata
Most Outstanding Player
Eric Shoemaker - Springfield