Springfield, Mass. - April 1, 2011 - The Springfield College men's volleyball took the next step towards advancing to the 2011 Molten Division III National Championship by grinding out a five-set victory over rival Juniata on Friday evening in Blake Arena. The Pride took the match by the scores of 25-19, 25-19, 19-25, 19-25, 19-17.
Springfield improves to 13-12 on the year, while the fifth-ranked Eagles drop to 15-11. The victory sets up a showdown with the top two teams in the country next Wednesday when second-ranked Springfield will travel to take on top-ranked NYU. If Springfield is able to defeat the Violets, they will clinch a bid into the Molten Championship.
Alberto Bravo led Springfield with 19 kills, nine digs and four blocks, while Greg Falcone tallied 14 kills on 21 errorless swings to hit .667 for the match. Fellow middle Cal Palumbo registered 14 kills and five blocks, and Nick Ferry recorded a match-high 13 digs. Mike Becker directed Springfield's offense with 57 assists, nine digs, and two aces.
For the Eagles, Chris Vrooman was spectacular, pounding out a match-high 24 kills at a .420 clip. Benn Wolff added 11 kills while hitting .556 and Alex McColgin pitched in 11 kills and 11 digs. John Prout posted a match-high six blocks and Mike Kraft handed out 50 assists to go along with 10 digs.
In the decisive fifth game, Springfield owned a 13-9 lead after a Juniata attack error. The Eagles answered back with a 4-1 run after a big swing by Vrooman as he tallied one of he eight kills in the set to even the game at 14 all. The game featured nine ties as the team's went back and forth before a thunderous kill by Bravo made it 18-17 in favor of the hosts. After a back-and-forth rally, Becker finally found Palumbo in transition and the senior put away the kill to complete the victory.
The Pride started off the match in very business-like fashion, totaling 17 kills at a .519 clip in the opening set. A Ross Madden kill gave Juniata an early 11-8 lead, but Springfield held tough and battled back to take an 18-17 lead after a kill by Palumbo. The Pride would extend its lead to 21-19 after Becker ripped an ace, and Bravo muscled his sixth kill of the set off the block to give Springfield a 25-19 win.
Springfield's defense was the difference in the second set as it racked up 18 digs and limited Juniata to just five kills. The Eagles continued to stay in the game thanks to Springfield's service errors and found themselves trailing 18-17 after a Springfield attack error. After a Juniata service error, Palumbo, Bravo, and Scott McMahan combined for a key triple block to push the lead to 21-18. The Eagles would only get within two the rest of the way before Mike Pelletier connected on a kill after a long rally to put the hosts up two games to none.
Vrooman started to take over the match for the Eagles in the third as he posted seven kills on the third set. With the score tied at nine all, the Eagles seized control with a 7-1 run capped off by a double block from Kraft and Prout to take a commanding 16-10 lead. The lead grew to as many as eight at 19-11 after a Kraft ace, as the Eagles cruised to a 25-19 win.
A Falcone kill early the fourth gave Springfield a quick four-point lead at 6-2, only to have the Eagles storm back and take an 11-10 lead after a block by Madden, Wolff, and Kraft. Another key block by Prout and McColgin gave the visitors a 17-13 advantage that it would not relinquish. Palumbo and Pelletier would combine for a block on the outside to get the Pride within three at 21-18, but the Eagles went to Wolff on set point to force a fifth set.
In the fifth, Vrooman connected for a kill to give Juniata its last lead of the match at 4-3. Jeff Gutmann would then come off the bench and give the Pride a huge boost, combining for consecutive kills as the Pride opened up a 7-5 lead and forced a JC timeout. A crafty kill by Pelletier out of the back row gave Springfield a 9-5 cushion, setting up the intense ending to the match.
The Pride will turn around and gear up for a critical EIVA Tait Conference match against St. Francis on Saturday at 5:00 pm.