Springfield repeats as men's volleyball champs

For the second consecutive season, the Springfield men's volleyball team won the NCAA Division III national championship after cruising past Stevens in straight sets on Saturday night in Tarble Arena on the campus of Carthage. The Pride won by the scores of 25-20, 25-14, 25-9.

Playing in an NCAA Division III national championship for the seventh consecutive season, Springfield wrapped up the year with a 31-2 record, including a perfect 29-0 mark against Division III opponents. The match proved to be a rematch of the 2015 NCAA Division III championship, as the Pride has now captured 11 Division III national championships, including winning five NCAA championships after claiming the crown in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2017. 

Springfield defeated Vassar in straight sets in the national semifinals. Stevens advanced past NYU, three sets to two. 

"Our guys learned a system, bought into a system and executed a system and it was excellent to see," coach Charlie Sullivan said after the contest. "They did a fantastic job."

Mike Neary was named the Most Outstanding Player of the championship as he handed out 38 assists in leading the Pride to a .351 hitting percentage. Eli Irizarry Pares and Sean Zuvich were also named to the all-championship team, as Irizarry Pares collected 13 digs in leading the Springfield defense, while Zuvich concluded a remarkable tournament with 10 digs and five kills. 

Springfield men's volleyball
Springfield athletics photo

Appearing in the starting lineup for the first time since March 31, Ricardo Padilla Ayala put together a special final game in a Springfield jersey, totaling 12 kills at a .375 clip, while the 2018 AVCA Division III National Player of the Year, Sergio Figueroa Velez registered a match-high 13 kills to go along with seven digs and a pair of aces. Joseth Irizarry Feliciano totaled seven kills and three blocks in the middle and fellow middle Kyle Jasuta turned in six kills, hitting .625. The Pride's defense finished the night with 47 digs, the most in a three-set match this season.

All-time men's volleyball champions

The NCAA has sponsored a Division III men's volleyball championship for seven seasons.
2012 Springfield
2013 Springfield
2014 Springfield
2015 Stevens
2016 SUNY New Paltz
2017 Springfield
2018 Springfield

Stevens jumped out to a 7-4 lead following the Pride's first attack error of the match, but Springfield would respond with four consecutive points, as Figueroa Velez crafted a kill around the block. Springfield would force Stevens into their first timeout of the evening at 11-8 when Irizarry Feliciano and Zuvich teammed up for a stuff block on the pin, and the Pride would gain a 16-12 edge when Jasuta converted in the middle. Stevens would whistle for their second timeout at 22-15 after their sixth attack error of the frame, and Springfield would earn a 25-20 victory after Figueroa crushed his fifth kill of the frame. The Pride hit at a .345 clip in the opener and limited the Ducks to a .083 hitting percentage, with four Springfield players having at least three kills.

The Pride stormed out to a 3-0 advantage after Figueroa Velez delivered a kill out of the back row, only to have Stevens answer right back with three-straight points of their own. A 6-3 spurt by Springfield, capped off by a kill from Irizarry Feliciano built the lead to 9-6, but the Ducks would respond again to tie the frame at 11-11. The Pride would then hit its stride, putting together a remarkable 14-3 surge, with Figueroa Velez delivering five kills in the burst, including his 11th kill of the night which completed the 25-14 win. Springfield produced 18 kills at a .405 clip in the stanza, while holding the Ducks to a .054 percentage. 

Holding a 7-5 lead in the third set, Springfield put the match away with an tremendous 11-1 burst that was keyed by an outstanding effort from the end by Figueroa Velez. It was a dominant final set for the Pride, as they suffocated Stevens to a minus-.067 hitting percentage, and claimed the title after Stevens committed their ninth service error of the night.

"We just did not have it in tonight's match and Springfield was the better team tonight," said Stevens assistant coach Amable Martinez. "It was a great run this year with amazing experiences and we look forward to getting back to work next season."

Juniors Dylan DeBoer and Cooper Diamond each recorded four blocks for the Ducks, who saw their 10-match winning streak come to an end. Stevens, champions of the United Volleyball Conference, concludes its 2018 campaign with a 27-5 record, for the 12th season of at least 25 victories under head coach Patrick Dorywalski.