Sam Leventhal | Off the Block special contributor
Springfield, Massachusetts — Both Springfield and Stevens Tech were coming off of convincing wins in the quarterfinal rounds, but the Pride had one big advantage for the NCAA Tournament semifinal match — its home fans.
In front of a large crowd, mixed with maroon and hawaiian shirt, the Springfield faithful screamed at the top of their lungs, echoing their voices off of the bubble that is Blake Arena, throughout Springfield’s sweep on Saturday to advance to the NCAA Tournament finals.
“It’s amazing,” opposite Sean Zuvich said. “The amount of support that we get here at Springfield College for just regular season games and then the show out that we get for national championship tournament games like this, it’s amazing. To see how many people absolutely believe in you and have your back no matter what.”
Springfield and Stevens could only base each other’s play off of film and the day prior to the match. The teams had not played each other since the 2015 NCAA Tournament finals when Stevens swept Springfield.
As Steven’s Jacob Patterson stepped back and stared at the red,white and blue printed on the volleyball, he stepped forward and began his toss. With the strike over the net, day two of the NCAA Tournament was underway and the Pride were on the board with the first point of the day.
Midway through the first set, senior setter Luis Garcia Rubio gave Zuvich a one-handed tip that found the open floor. From there, junior serving specialist Tucker Evans electrified the set with back-to-back aces, totaling five on the day.
“When Tucker does his job, which is extremely challenging, to come off the bench and serve aggressively and sit there for 10 minutes and go up a throw a rocket we all get inspired and it makes everyone better,” Springfield coach Charlie Sullivan said.
To finish off the set, AVCA Division III National Player of the Year Luis Vega stepped up to the line and struck a powerful serve at the heart of the Ducks defense that resulted in an ace and a 25-21 set one victory.
“Our passing was fantastic today. Eli took care of a lot of the communication and once we passed well, we let Luis run the offense and I just did my job of putting the ball down,” Vega said.
In set two, the Pride took command and showed no signs of letting up on the Ducks. Evans, who commanded the service line in the match, added his third and fourth kills in set two.
“This game was different than any other one,” Stevens freshman All-American David Lehman said. “In the first and second set we were definitely involved more with the crowd and the environment. Then in the third set, we said to ourselves it’s now or never. This may be the last opportunity we have to play with each other. Let’s go out there, let’s have fun and have no regrets. That’s what we did and I think it showed. Springfield 2-0 set count lead by a score of 25-14.”
The Ducks came out firing in the set three and led for most of the set until Springfield was able to jump back out in front at 20-19.
An ace from Jasuta gave the Pride a three-point lead at 23-20, but Lehman snagged a point back after beating the rising arms of Vega. On the next play, Vega would swing a ball right into the next but only before creating a crafty kill moving crosscourt, jumping off of one foot and finding the hole in the rear of the Ducks defense.
The game moved into bonus volleyball in set three, but ultimately the Pride completed the sweep and solidified their spot in the finals for an eighth straight season.
Vega finished the game with 20 kills at a .571 clip. The rest of his fellow seniors and him now have the chance to come full circle and win another title in their final season.
“It’s an honor to reach this point in general. It’ll be exciting to see who we face but I’m more excited to see how we perform in that setting,” Zuvich said.