Springfield, which is currently ranked second in the country in the latest AVCA Division III Men's Coaches Top 15 Poll, will enter the Championship as the second seed. The Pride will play in the second semifinal at 8:00 pm central time on Friday evening against the third-seeded and 15th-ranked Carthage College Red Men, who will serve as hosts for the weekend.
The other semifinal will include top-seeded and third-ranked UC Santa Cruz against fourth-seeded and unranked Nazareth College. The Banana Slugs and Golden Flyers will play the opening match of the weekend on Friday evening at 5:00 pm central time.
Springfield and Carthage have just one common opponent this season, as both squads got by New York University during their seasons. Both teams were victorious, with Carthage downing the Violets in three on March 19 by the game scores of 30-24, 30-26, 30-19. In their two meetings with NYU, Springfield picked up a pair of wins. SC won 30-21, 31-29, 30-21 on February 20th, before clinching a spot in the Molten Championship with a 30-20, 30-22, 30-19 three-set win on April 3.
The last time Springfield and Carthage played was on February 8, 2008 when they met on a neutral site at the Nazareth Invitational in Rochester, N.Y. Springfield won in three games, 30-26, 30-19, 30-27, as AJ Nally totaled nine kills and nine digs, and Cal Palumbo posted nine kills, hitting .500 to go along with a pair of blocks. Eric Shoemaker delivered 23 assists as he shared time at setter in the match.
Springfield is led this season by four AVCA All-Americans, including the national player of the year, who have guided the Pride to a 17-10 record during the regular season. Player of the Year AJ Nally, Eric Shoemaker, and Cal Palumbo all received first-team All-American status, while freshman Greg Falcone was selected to the second team. The Pride, much in part to its schedule laden with Division I teams, is statistically ranked among Division I institutions. Falcone enters the match as the nation’s leader in blocks per game with 1.73, while fellow middle Palumbo is currently ranked seventh in nation in hitting percentage at a .436 clip this season. As a team, Springfield is ranked third in blocks per game with 3.38 and seventh in the country in digs per game with 11.33. Nally bolsters the dig total as he is 15th in the nation in digs per game with 2.64, and 18th in the country in kills per game with 4.08.
Carthage enters the match with a 20-11 record, but has just played 10 matches all season at home in Tarble Arena. The Red Men are statistically ranked with other Division III teams and are the top ranked blocking team with 2.9 blocks per game with Tyler Frings leading the way as the top-ranked Division III blocker with 1.49 per game. Tom O’Connell ranks fifth in the nation individually with .64 aces per game, and as a team, the Red Men rank seventh in the country with 2.05 aces per game. Randy Hansen has totaled 367 kills this season and is averaging 3.82 per set to lead Carthage’s offense.
If Springfield were to defeat Carthage, they would take on the winner of the UC Santa Cruz/Nazareth semifinal. UC Santa Cruz earned the top seed in the tournament and received an invitation as the Midwest/West Region at-large representative for the third consecutive year. Nazareth made an incredible run through the New England Collegiate Volleyball Association (NECVA) Tournament as it won the tournament as the 15th-seed, knocking off the second, seventh, sixth, and fourth-seeded teams in the process.
Springfield opened up its season against UC Santa Cruz and was swept by the Banana Slugs in three sets, 30-24, 30-25, 30-28. In the loss, Nally turned in a team-best 15 kills, while hitting .345 to pace the Pride attack. Cal Palumbo was the only other member of SC to notch double-digit kills as the All-American posted 10 kills out of the middle. Nally added a team-best seven digs, and Shoemaker handed out 41 assists in the loss. Springfield was limited to just a .189 hitting percentage in the contest, compared to Santa Cruz's hitting percentage of .360.
The Pride and Golden Flyers have not played each other since 2008, when Nazareth swept Springfield, 30-20, 30-27, 30-25, in the championship match of the Nazareth Invitational. Nally totaled 10 kills in the loss, while Palumbo added eight.