Men’s Volleyball Finishes Historic SeasonHawks’ Streak finally snapped in first ever final four
The Hunter Men’s Volleyball team finished a historic season last Saturday, April 28, losing a tough match against No. 1 Springfield College in the first ever NCAA Division III Men’s Volleyball Final Four. The Hawks, who finished the year ranked number 12 in the nation, were confident going into the nine-team tournament, having finished the regular season with a 25-8 record that included an electric twenty-one match winning streak. Their recent five set loss to Baruch in the CUNYAC final made them hungry for renewed success.
In the first match of the tournament, on Friday, April 27, the Hawks were paired against the number 14 Kean University Cougars. Playing inside Blake Arena on the Springfield College campus in Springfield, Massachusetts, the Hawks were challenged by the Cougars from the start. After a series of attack errors, the Hawks found themselves down 11-14 and 12-15, before finally hitting their stride to pull even at 15-15 after a Cougars attack error. But Kean wouldn’t go away. The Hawks had to claw their way through the rest of the first set, getting four kills from Senior Eric Barty down the stretch and eventually outlasting the Cougars 25-23 to go up 1-0 in the match.
In an error-filled second set, the teams fought back and forth throughout before the Cougars pulled ahead for good at 20-21. They won the set 22-25 to even the match at one set apiece.
In the third set, it appeared the Hawks were going to make quick business of the Cougars as they jumped out to leads of 16-9 and 18-12, but their opponents came all the way back to level the set at 20-20 on a kill by Junior Steve Valhalla. With their backs against the wall, the Hawks came to life. Led by four kills in the last nine points by All-American Senior Christopher Newcomb, the Hawks took the set 25-23, giving them a 2-1 lead in the match.
In the fourth and final set, the Hawks quickly fell into a 3-7 hole. After getting a series of service and attack errors out of their system, the Hawks began to hit their stride. They battled back to tie the set at 8-8 and then took the lead for good on yet another crucial kill by Newcomb. The Cougars didn’t make it easy, but Hunter played solid volleyball down the stretch to take the set 25-21 and win their first ever NCAA Tournament match 3-1.
In the second round of the tournament, the Hawks were up against the number one team in the country, the Springfield College Pride. The Pride, in addition to their lofty ranking, also had the advantage of playing on their home court. After knocking off Hunter’s biggest rival, number 13 Baruch in the first round, the Pride came in with a 19-game winning streak.
In the first set of the national semifinal match, the Hawks kept it tight, making it a two-point set at 9-11 on a kill by Newcomb. The Pride responded with two kills of their own before taking advantage of three Hawks’ attack errors, stretching their lead to 9-16. The Cougars smothered the Hawks through the rest of the set, getting five kills from Junior Alistair Matthews down the stretch to take the set 13-25.
The Hawks began to surge in the second set, proving to the Springfield crowd that they could play with anyone in the country, including the top ranked Pride. The set was close throughout, with the Hawks hanging just behind the Pride before finally evening the set at 15-15 on a kill by Newcomb. After ties at 16-16, 17-17, and 18-18, the Hawks broke through and took leads of 19-18, 21-19, and 23-21 before the Pride went on a hot streak, sweeping four straight points from the Hawks before closing out the set 23-25 to take a 0-2 lead in the match.
After the gut-wrenching second set, the Hawks ran out of gas. The Pride leapt out to an 0-8 lead in the 3rd set and never looked back. Getting three service aces and kills from five different players, the Pride sailed through the set, winning it 7-25 and taking the match 0-3 to bring the Hawks’ historic season to an end.
Although the Hawks’ run ended just short of a national championship, their accomplishments over the past season have been astounding.
“When we were in the NCAA tournament, I personally couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that this was the first one ever and that we were doing something extremely special,” said Newcomb. “But after we got back from Springfield College it finally hit me that this was literally a once in a lifetime event that we were a part of. I wouldn’t change anything that happened for the world,” he reflected.
Beyond the individual accolades— CUNYAC Regular Season Champions, CUNYAC Player of the Year, CUNYAC Coach of the Year, 5 All-CUNYAC players, and an AVCA First Team All- American—this Hawks team will forever be remembered as one of the first teams to play in the NCAA Division III Men’s Volleyball Final Four. That is something that all the players, the coaches, and the rest of us at Hunter should be very, very proud of.