With the win, fifth-seeded Hunter raises its record to 26-8, while fourth-seeded Kean ends its season at 25-11. It means that Hunter will next face #1-seeded Springfield Saturday at 4 pm in one semifinal match-up.
For the Hunter Hawks, senior outside hitter Christopher Newcomb (Waimea, Hawaii) finished with a team-high 23 kills and hit.405 for the match. He also had a team-high 42 swings. Senior middle blocker Eric Barty (Jamaica, N.Y.) followed with 14 kills in a total of 33 swings, hitting .273 for the match.
Sophomore setter Stanley Martinez (Bayside, N.Y.) contributed 43 set assists and a match-high 16 digs for the Hawks. Newcomb added 11 digs, and Barty had six.
For the Kean Cougars, junior outside hitter Steve Valhalla (Bloomfield, N.J.) ended with a match-high 26 kills in an incredible 52 attempts. He finished with a .365 hitting percentage. Freshman middle hitter Kyle Farley (Cherry Hill, N.J.) had 13 kills with only four errors in 19 swings for a .474 percentage.
Three members of the Kean squad had a very respectable number of digs on the afternoon. They were freshman setter Alex Barnhard (Old Bridge, N.J.) with 15, Valhalla with 11, and senior outside hitter Sam Haimann (Whitehouse Station, N.J.), also with 11. Barnhard had 51 set assists.
As a team, Hunter had a .214 hitting percentage, while Kean ended with a .190 percentage.
In the back and forth first set, neither team could get more than a three-point lead. Trailing 12-15 midway through the game, Hunter went on a 7-3 run to take its first lead at 18-17. A kill by Newcomb and a Christian Portera (East Brunswick, N.J.) attack error gave Hunter a 22-20 lead late in the set, and forced Kean to call a timeout. Kean got within one at 24-23, but Barty finished off the game for Hunter with a big kill to respond. Both teams hit well on the attack, with Hunter finishing the set at .379 and Kean over the .300 mark as well at .312. Barty had seven kills in the first frame for the Hawks while the Cougars were led by AVCA All-American Vahalla with six.
The beginning of the second set saw more of the same back and forth play that characterized game one. Hunter led midway through the set at 14-13 before Kean put together its longest run of the afternoon with a 4-0 spurt to take over 17-14. Vahalla capped the run with one of his nine kills in the set, tied for as many as the entire Hunter team. The Hawks called timeout to regroup, and scored the first point back from the break. Kean pushed back to take a 20-18 lead, but Hunter once again rebounded to tie it up at 20-20. Another pair of Vahalla kills gave Kean a 23-20 cushion, and the Cougars held on for the second set, 25-22. The Cougars hit just .176 collectively, but Vahalla went .412 by himself to carry Kean to the second set victory.
In the third set, Hunter started off hot, racing to a 6-2 advantage early on. Kean responded quickly behind a Kyle Farley kill and two service aces to draw within one. The back and forth continued, with Hunter slowly pulling away to a 16-9 lead midway through the set. Kean then used a 5-2 run of its own to pull within four at 18-14 and force a Hunter timeout. The Cougars immediately picked up where they left off before the break, putting together another run to cut the deficit to 19-18 and give themselves a chance to steal the set.
Newcomb started to take over for Hunter, smacking four kills in Hunter’s last five points. The Hawks needed extra time, but took the third set, 27-25, after John Cunningham’s attack attempt went just long. Newcomb led the way for both squads with eight kills in the set. Farley added six for Kean and Vahalla swatted another five, but Hunter held the two games to one edge heading into the fourth set.
Fighting to force a fifth set, Kean started off well in the fourth. Cunningham and Farley teamed up to block Newcomb’s attack to give the Cougars a 6-2 lead early. Hunter immediately responded with its own 6-2 run, knotting the score at eight after a Barty kill and a subsequent service ace. Newcomb then put the Hawks up 9-8 with a vicious spike and Kean called for time. But the Cougars could never muster an extended rally. Hunter’s lead grew to 16-12 and then 20-15. Two Hunter errors let Kean back into it at 20-17, but then three Cougar errors gave the momentum back to the Hawks. Up 24-21, Newcomb sent the Hawks into the semifinals with his 23rd kill of the match.