#11 Men’s Volleyball Falls Just Short in CUNYAC ChampionshipHawks look forward to NCAA tourney
Staff Writer After an undefeated run through their regular season CUNYAC schedule, the #11 nationally ranked Hunter Men’s Volleyball team fell just short in the CUNYAC Tournament on Thursday, April 12. Despite winning the first two sets to take a commanding lead, the Hawks ultimately fell 3-2 (25-23, 25-22, 20-25, 18-25, 10-15) to rival #13 Baruch.
In the first set, which they won 25-23, the Hawks broke a 23-23 tie with a kill from CUNYAC Player of the Year Christopher Newcomb and by taking advantage of a costly Baruch attack error. In the second set, the Hawks again found a way to overcome a back and forth battle, edging the Bearcats 25-22.
After two exhausting opening sets, and with the Hawks on the verge of capturing the elusive CUNYAC title, Baruch began to surge in the third set. The Bearcats hopped out to an early 5-1 lead before the Hawks eventually caught up to make it 9-9. The Hawks hung right in there, getting key plays from Second Team All-CUNYAC Player Eric Barty, but the Bearcats, who were starting to build momentum with their backs against the wall, pulled away and won the set 25-20.
After the Bearcats took an early lead in the fourth set, the Hawks again battled back, this time tying the set at 10 on a Baruch attack error. But the Hawks, who had to scrape and claw for every point in the match up to that point, began showing signs of fatigue in allowing Baruch to take a 21-14 lead. The Bearcats ultimately won the fourth set 25-18, forcing a fifth set to decide the championship.
In the fifth set, the Hawks proved they still had plenty of fight left in them, hanging with Baruch most of the way. However, the Bearcats got late kills from CUNYAC Tournament MVP Jack McKee and CUNYAC All-Tournament Player Steven Coniglio to bury the Hawks 15-10, allowing Baruch to walk away with their sixth CUNYAC Tournament title, and their fourth in a row.
It wasn’t the way the Hawks would have liked to end their conference season, of course, but what a regular season it was. Here are some of the highlights: Individually, senior Christopher Newcombe was named CUNYAC Player of the Year and First Team All American; Coach Ray Bello was named CUNYAC Coach of the Year, and five players were named CUNYAC All-Stars – junior middles John Gemegah and Braien Otsla, sophomore setter Stanley Martinez, senior middle Erik Barty, and Newcomb. As a team, the Hawks completed a perfect 14-0 CUNYAC regular season, secured two wins against rivals Baruch, and used a 21-game winning streak to climb to a national ranking of #11 in Division III.
And now, the Hawks are headed into the NCAA tournament, the first time ever there will be a Division Three national title at stake in Men’s Volleyball. Make no mistake, Hunter will be a lethal matchup for anyone in the country. During their 21-match winning streak, the Hawks won 63 sets and lost only four. If you throw in the loss to Baruch in the CUNYAC final, that means the Hawks have won sixty-five out of the last seventy-two sets they’ve played. That’s an astonishing accomplishment.
To get an idea of how far the Hawks have come in such a short period of time, it’s helpful to see where they were a few months ago. When All-CUNYAC junior Braien Otsla spoke with The Envoy in February, he said that he’d never played a winning match against Baruch in his years at Hunter, but that he knew the Hawks were very close, and that Baruch knew it too. That was on February 8. The Hawks were 1-6.
Since then, they are 2-1 against Baruch, having won eight of the 11 sets the two teams have played, and 24-2 overall.
Otsla also added this in that same February interview: “At the moment we are shaky, with so much potential that we do not know how to use it. Our coaches are working hard for that and we are like a puzzle that just has to be put together,” he said. “I can sense that there’s only a few pieces missing for us to be 100% and leave a mark in Division III.”
One glance at the laundry list of accomplishments the Hawks have racked up so far lets you see just how right Otsla was. Now that all the pieces of the puzzle are in place, it’s going to be an exciting month for the Hawks. Their first step onto the national stage will be April 27, when they take on Kean University at Blake Arena in Springfield, Mass.