A Decade of Domination

If you have ever associated with D3 Men’s Volleyball in the last 20 years, it is impossible to not have heard the name of Springfield. The program has, without question, the most storied history of any volleyball program in the D3 landscape. 

During the Days of the Molten Championship (the unofficial D3 Men’s Championship), Springfield and Juniata essentially ruled D3 with both an iron fist and fierce rivalry.  Each program won 6 Molten Titles between 1997 and 2011, and they were undeniably the two powerhouse schools of Division III men’s volleyball. The formation of the NCAA D3 Men’s Volleyball Championship ushered in a new era for both Springfield and Juniata, as they would each leave the EIVA division to be compliant with D3 match schedule requirements. Springfield has since gone on to thrive in the post-Molten era, and Juniata has since been fighting to reclaim their former glory. Their rivalry culminated in a final showdown in the 2014 NCAA Championship, where Springfield swept Juniata 3-0 on Juniata’s home court for the National Title (more on that later). 

The 2014 Championship would cement Springfield’s status as the triumphant superpower in the D3 men’s volleyball landscape. This is evident in their history of post season success. You can see their season finishes below,  going all the way back to 2010. 

2010 Molten Championship: 3-0 Win over UC Santa Cruz (23-30, 32-30, 30-26, 30-22)
2011 Molten Championship: 1-3 Loss to Nazareth (23-25, 25-22, 23-25, 22-25)
2012 NCAA Championship: 3-0 Win over Carthage (25-21, 25-22, 25-16)
2013 NCAA Championship: 3-0 Win over Nazareth (25-18, 25-13, 25-22)
2014 NCAA Championship: 3-0 Win over Juniata (25-21, 25-21, 25-21)
2015 NCAA Championship: 0-3 Loss to Stevens (20-25, 21-25, 21-25)
2016 NCAA Championship: 1-3 Loss to New Paltz (18-25, 23-25, 25-23, 24-26)
2017 NCAA Championship: 3-1 Win over New Paltz (22-25, 25-22, 25-23, 25-21)
2018 NCAA Championship: 3-0 Win over Stevens (25-20, 25-14, 25-9)
2019 NCAA Semi-final: 1-3 Loss to New Paltz (23-25, 25-21, 25-16, 25-22)
2020 NCAA Season: Canceled *** 18-1 vs D3 Opponents #1 in AVCA Coaches Poll

Including the Molten Championships, Springfield played in 9 of the 10 D3 National Championships going all the way back to the 2010 season. They have gone 6-3 in those matches, resulting in one last Molten Championship and 5 NCAA National Championships. Some years D3 has produced a worthy challenger for Springfield, but the Pride have avenged every National Championship they have ever lost against every program that has defeated them during this time frame. 

This is quite simply an unmatched level of excellence. Springfield has raised the bar for Championship caliber volleyball, and each one of these teams has contributed to one of the strongest championship cultures I have personally seen in any level of sports. 

Springfield 2012 – National Champions

Photo courtesy of Springfield Athletics

Team Statistics
Kill Percentage: .381% (1st)                           
Kills/Set: 12.46 (6th)
Assists/Set: 11.13 (10th)
Blocks/Set: 2.53 (7th)
Aces/Set: 1.81 (7th)
Digs/Set: 8.48 (43rd)

In my four years of playing (well, sitting) for New Paltz, the only time we ever met Springfield was coincidentally in 2012, my senior year and the inaugural year of the NCAA D3 Men’s Championship. We met on the first day of competition at the Vassar Tournament. We got bounced; not just any type of bounce, I’m talking about an unblocked 2-ball kind of bounce. Look at who this team started.  

OH: All-American Mike Pelletier (JR)
OH: All-American Angel Perez (SR)
OP: Alistair Mathews (SR)
S: All-American Keaton Pieper (FR)
MB: All-American Greg Falcone (JR)
MB: All-American/Player of the Year Jimmy O’Leary (SOPH)
L: All-American Nick Ferry (SOPH)

This team was loaded with talent and nigh unstoppable. I could go on about each one of these players, but I do not want this section of the piece to be unbearably long and I have 9 more years to cover (is it even fair when a team has six all-americans playing together)! They would end the season 33-5, but their lone D3 loss came against Juniata on Juniata’s home court (25-27, 20-25, 21-25). This would be their last loss for the remainder of the season.

The 2012 Pride would go on a 21-game win streak, toppling successive NVA/AVCA ranked teams (avenging their Juniata loss with a 3-2 victory at their own invitational along the way). This would take them through the post season, where they defeated Baruch (3-0), Hunter (3-0), and finally Carthage (3-0) to claim the first ever NCAA D3 National Championship. 

Springfield 2013 – National Champions

Photo courtesy of Springfield Athletics

Season Statistics
Kill Percentage: .387 (1st)                
Kills/Set: 12.78 (6th)
Assists/Set: 11.55 (6th)
Blocks/Set: 2.45 (7th)
Aces/Set: 1.74 (7th)
Digs/Set: 8.43 (N/A)

NCAA Final Line-Up
OH: Luis Vega
OH: Mike Pelletier
MB: Jimmy O’Leary
S: Keaton Pieper
MB: Greg Falcone
L:  Nick Ferry
OPP: John Coen / Alistair Matthews

You might notice something here… but the 2013 NCAA final line-up was largely identical to the 2012 Championship team. Standout OH Angel Perez did not play this year, but 2013 marked the entrance of freshmen Luis Vega (OH), who more than made up for the loss of Perez (hit .329 for the year as a Freshmen Outside!?). If not for a their incredibly close 3-2 loss to rival Juniata, this team would have been ranked #1 from pre-season to Championship. 

Springfield was not the only team to gain a standout freshman this year. Overall, the 2013 Freshman class arguably must be one of the greatest classes of athletes to enter the D3 men’s landscape up to this point (more on that later). Many programs gained strong foundational pieces that would set the stage for future storylines over the next few seasons.

One of these teams was Nazareth. The Golden Flyers supplemented their own core of Wells-Spicer (S), Mowery (L), Kraft (MB), and Lawatsch (MB) with the additions of freshmen Grant Levermore (future All-American) (OH) and Tim Zyburt (OPP); Zyburt was one of 3 Freshmen named to the All-America list in 2013. 

The Golden Flyers had established themselves as the 2nd best team in D3 this season, at one point having a 31-match win streak (ended on March 30th in a 3-0 loss to UVC rival New Paltz).  Both teams made the NCAA finals and faced off on Nazareth’s home court; it did not matter.

Springfield dominated this game from start to finish. I remember watching on live-stream and seeing the gigantic crowd of Pride fans erupt with every point, you would have thought they were playing on their home court (nothing compares to the atmosphere of a packed Blake Arena though). The Golden Flyers had an offense that was just as potent as Springfield’s and on paper appeared to have the talent to defeat them. The Pride did not care, their superior play held Nazareth to a .181 hitting percentage and only allowed 8.6 kills/set; the Golden flyers averaged .382 and 13.76 for the year. It was a statement win to the rest of the division. Wherever we go, we are Springfield. 

2014 Springfield – National Champions

Photo courtesy of Springfield Athletics

Season Statistics
Kill Percentage: .331 (1st)                            
Kills/Set: 12.79 (3rd)
Assists/Set: 12.01 (3rd)
Blocks/Set: 2.46 (9th)
Aces/Set: 1.9 (3)
Digs/Set: 8.81 (68th)

NCAA Final Line-Up
OH: Luis Vega
OH: Angel Perez
S: Keaton Pieper
MB: Jimmy O’Leary
MB: Sean Peterson
L:  Nick Ferry (JR)
OPP: Sean Zuvich

Even with the graduation of line-up mainstays Mike Pelletier and Greg Falcone, the 2014 Springfield team returned Vega, Perez, Pieper, O’Leary and Ferry. Newcomers Sean Peterson (MB) and Sean Zuvich would round out the first 7 as the Pride had eyes on an unprecedented 3-peat of National Championships.

This season was intrinsically significant for many reasons, as it marked a notable shift in the D3 landscape. The Springfield Pride had been undefeated on their home court in Blake Arena since March 27th, 2011. This streak would ultimately end at the hands of SUNY New Paltz on February 14th, 2014.

I remember this game vividly, as it was the first year Springfield and New Paltz would conduct a home-and-home series; Springfield had defeated the Hawks in New Paltz merely a week before the rematch. The momentum swings throughout were titanic, as the two programs refused to concede defeat in any set. With the 3-0 victory, New Paltz would secure a perfect weekend record at the invitational and  would claim their first #1 Ranking in program history.

Springfield’s consecutive losses to New Paltz and Rivier at their home tournament may have demonstrated a momentary weakness, but it would not last. The Pride would finish the season undefeated against DIII programs. The 2014 NCAA tournament was held at Juniata, and Juniata was riding a raucous home crowd the entire tournament. Juniata avenged their mid-season loss to New Paltz in the NCAA semifinals, and was greeted by chants of “We Want Springfield”, as the animosity and embers of rivalry had yet to fade. Juniata had gotten hot, their fans were excited, they were on their home court… it didn’t matter. Springfield would win the championship over their old rival with a 3-0 sweep, the final chapter of their storied past.

2015 Springfield – National Runner-Ups

Photo courtesy of Springfield Athletics

Season Statistics
Kill Percentage: .329 (1st)                            
Kills/Set: 12.48 (5th)
Assists/Set: 11.8 (3rd)
Blocks/Set: 2.41 (10th)
Aces/Set: 1.79 (13)
Digs/Set: 8.54 (57th)

NCAA Final Line-Up
OH: Ricardo-Padilla Ayala
OH: Angel Perez
S: Keaton Pieper
MB: Joseth Irizarry Feliciano
MB: Jason Mascoe
L:  Ryan Malone
OPP: Greg Woods

Three national championships later, the Pride would come down to earth (relatively). Their core had largely graduated outside of Angel Perez and Keaton Pieper, and Luis Vega would not suit up this season. The 2015 Pride in hindsight was probably one of the weaker contingents over the last decade, and even so they still made it to the NCAA finals.

Despite Ricardo Padilla-Ayala having a stellar freshmen season, the Pride underwent several lineup configurations throughout the season as they tried to establish an on-court formula. They suffered two losses early in the season to Kean and Wentworth, but were able to recover and go undefeated the rest of the regular season against D3 opponents, including sweeping their home-and-home series with New Paltz via 5-set battles. 

It’s hard to believe, but at one point Springfield was actually ranked at #8 in the NVA/AVCA coaches poll during this season. I don’t think I even remember a time where I have personally seen them outside the top 3, but this season was unique in a couple ways. The graduation of Springfields key contributors from their first 3 national championships coincided with the general improvement of several top programs throughout the country. More pointedly, it coincided with the return of David Evans (OH)  and the transfer of Tim Ferriter (OH) to the Stevens Institute of Technology (both top 5 All American Outside)

Springfield made the championship match for the 4th year in a row by defeating Rutgers-Newark and Nazareth, but fell to the Stevens Ducks in a 3 set match on Steven’s home court. This was arguably the best Steven’s team to ever exist; they had All-Americans sitting on the bench throughout much of the season. Chris Vaughn, a first team All-American OH in 2014 played Libero in the NCAA tournament; meaning this team had three All-American outsides in their serve receive. The combination of David Evans, Tim Ferriter, Kevin Aeckerle, Chris Vaughn and Ryan Seifert was just too much for the Pride this season.

2016 Springfield – National Runner-Ups

Photo courtesy of Springfield Athletics

Season Statistics
Kill Percentage: .382 (1st)                            
Kills/Set: 12.97 (4th)
Assists/Set: 12.15 (3rd)
Blocks/Set: 2.5 (3rd)
Aces/Set: 1.87 (14)
Digs/Set: 8.54 (57th)

NCAA Final Line-Up
OH: Ricardo-Padilla Ayala
OH: Luis Vega
S: Luis Garcia-Rubio
MB: Kyle Jasuta
MB: Julian Welsh-White
L:  Eli Irizarry Pares
OPP: Greg Woods

Fresh off their first National Championship defeat in 4 years, Springfield would enter the 2016 team with a line-up which, in my opinion, 9 times out 10 wins a national championship.

I have openly said to close associates how I feel D3 men’s volleyball was incredibly competitive during this season. Many of the freshmen who entered the landscape in 2012/13 were now seniors, and the combination of age and playing experience culminated in some of the best all around competitive parity. Against this backdrop, Springfield absolutely dominated against D3 competition. The team went 24-3 against D3 teams, but their three losses all came against the same team, SUNY New Paltz.

Over the years the home-and-home series between New Paltz and Springfield had formed a rivalry which became pronounced this season. The 2016 SUNY New Paltz team was the most dominant New Paltz team to ever exist, and they ran roughshod over the D3 landscape. They went undefeated in D3 matches, and even started their backups in the NCAA quarter final game against Wentworth (I’ve never asked Radu why he did this, but as someone who played for Radu I can say with like 95% certainty the back-ups most likely beat the starters in some 6-on-6 drill that week).

This New Paltz team defeated Springfield twice during the regular season prior to the NCAA  finals, to this date the only year New Paltz has swept the home-and-home series with Springfield.

I’ve watched this finals match several times, and I’m going to be very honest. If there was any team in D3 that had a chance of taking down New Paltz, it was Springfield. Outside of the first set, Springfield and New Paltz battled for every point. After winning set 3, Springfield was actually up 18-14 in Set 4 looking to force a 5th set. Two center line violations in a row halted their progress, and New Paltz would rally behind consecutive kills from Joe Norman (OP). The rest is history. 

2017 Springfield – National Champions

Photo courtesy of Springfield Athletics

Season Statistics
Kill Percentage: .367 (1st)                            
Kills/Set: 13.2  (2nd)
Assists/Set: 12.5 (3rd)
Blocks/Set: 2.1 (6th)
Aces/Set: 2.9 (1)
Digs/Set: 8.4 (6th)

NCAA Final Line-Up
OH: Ricardo-Padilla Ayala
OH: Luis Vega
S: Luis Garcia Rubio
MB: Jonathan Rodriguez Lopez
MB: Kyle Jasuta
L:  Eli Irrizary Pares
OPP: Sean Zuvich

The 2017 season  began what I would dub the revenge tour for the Springfield Pride. Fresh off their NCAA final loss, the core of Ayala, Vega, Rubio, Jasuta, and Pares would dominate the D3 landscape in a way New Paltz did the year before. They launched rockets from the service line, led the division in hitting efficiency, and played with a battle tested fearlessness.

They began the season as the number 1 ranked team and held onto it from start to finish. The 2017 NCAA tournament was held at Springfield; the Pride would defeat Hunter and Stevens to advance to the finals.

Almost by design, SUNY New Paltz was able to battle through the early rounds of the NCAA tournament to reach the finals. Matt Grace (S), Rob Nolan (L) and Medaille transfer Bradley Schneider (OH) helped supplement the core of Woessner, Bonilla, Roessler, and Borfitz as New Paltz defeated Kean, Vassar, and Wentworth during the tournament.

Springfield and New Paltz had played twice before during the regular season, with their previous two bouts resulting in 5-set wins for the Pride. Not only was New Paltz the underdog, they were playing on Springfield’s home turf. New Paltz was able to take the first set of the match, but Springfield gathered themselves. They would win the next 3 sets in convincing fashion, avenging their 2016 loss and reclaiming the National Championship. 

2018 Springfield – National Champions

Photo courtesy of Springfield Athletics

Season Statistics
Kill Percentage: .372 (1st)                            
Kills/Set: 12.6 (5th)
Assists/Set: 11.73 (6rd)
Blocks/Set: 2.94 (27th)
Aces/Set: 2.39 (3rd)
Digs/Set: N/A

NCAA Final Line-Up
OH: Ricardo-Padilla Ayala
OH: Sergio Figueroa Velez
S: Mike Neary
MB: Joseth Irizarry Feliciano
MB: Kyle Jasuta
L:  Eli Irizarry Pares
OPP: Sean Zuvich

The 2018 season was essentially just an extension of the 2017 season. Springfield started out as the #1 ranked team in Division 3, and from January to April they held onto it. 2018 was remarkable in so much that no program clearly stepped out to challenge Springfield’s supremacy. The Pride went undefeated in D3 competition, and the division was largely helpless.

New Paltz over the last few years had established itself as the primary rival to Springfield, but the Hawks  had taken a step in 2018. They lost in the semi-finals of the UVC Conference tournament, and subsequently were left out of the NCAA tournament. Springfield would defeat Hunter and Vassar to advance to the finals, where they were blessed with a rematch with Stevens; the only other program to defeat them for an NCAA Championship.

I wish I could write more about this finals match, but it was barely watchable. Springfield absolutely throttled Stevens in this game. They did everything and anything they wanted with impunity. It was the most lopsided D3 NCAA Men’s Volleyball Final to occur in the tournament’s history.

2019 Springfield – NCAA Semi-finalists

Photo courtesy of Springfield Athletics

Season Statistics
Kill Percentage: .287 (7th)                          
Kills/Set: 12.09 (16th)
Assists/Set: 11.32 (16th)
Blocks/Set: 1.91 (34th)
Aces/Set: 1.81 (20th)
Digs/Set: 8.54 (57th)

NCAA Semifinal Line-Up
OH: Eli Irizarry Pares
OH: Brennen Brandow
S: Eli Gabriel Irizarry Pares
MB: Chris Parker
MB: Kyle Jasuta
L:  Johan Mussa Robles
OPP: Mike Neary

The 2019 Springfield Pride had an array of line-up questions going into the year. Pares would move from libero to outside, Mike Neary  would go from Setting to play Opposite, and they’d start a freshmen outside in Brennen Brandow.

Statistically, this was the weakest Springfield Pride team of the decade, taking the spot from the 2015 Pride team. Even so, Coach Sullivan and the Pride continued to exemplify the excellence which is Springfield volleyball. Brennan Brandow would shine in his freshman year, Eli Gabriel Pares would be named an All-American, the Pride were one of the top 2 teams for the majority of the year, and they would once again make the NCAA tournament.

Coming into the tournament, the only D3 opponent to defeat Springfield was Rivier. They met in the quarterfinals, where the Pride avenged their regular season loss with a 3-0 sweep. They were bound for the semifinals.

Their next opponent was none other than SUNY New Paltz. Coming into the match Springfield had already defeated New Paltz twice during the season, sweeping their home-and-home series. New Paltz was riding hot though; they had punched their ticket into the tournament by upsetting Steven’s in the UVC Championship and then engineered a miracle 5th set comeback over Endicott in the Quarterfinals. 

The result shocked the D3 landscape. New Paltz would defeat Springfield 3-1 in what was considered an upset. The win was largely fueled by the sudden breakout of All-American Aaron Caark (OPP) for New Paltz. His performance powered New Paltz past Springfield all the way to a 3-1 win over UC Santa Cruz for the NCAA Championship.

 It would be the first time Springfield would not play in an NCAA Championship match, a lone blemish in a storied history of excellence.  

2020 Springfield

Photo courtesy of Springfield Athletics

Season Statistics
Kill Percentage: .364 (1st)                            
Kills/Set: 12.55 (7th)
Assists/Set: 11.95 (4rd)
Blocks/Set: 1.716  (45th)
Aces/Set: 2.51 (2nd)
Digs/Set: 9 (83)

Line Up
OH: Brennen Brandow
OH: Liam York
S: Matt Lilley
MB: Chris Parker
MB: Thomas Wollweber / Stivan Topali
L: Johan Mussa Robles
OPP: Jarrett Anderson

There were rumblings about the 2020 Springfield team for quite some time after the 2019 season; and I can’t say they were wrong. Coach Sullivan was able to bring in a host of new offensive weapons to supplement the up and coming Brennen Brandow. Jarrett Anderson (OPP) and Liam York (OH) were expected to slot right into starting roles for the Pride once the season began.

I am the first to admit that I highly value senior leadership and experience when it comes to winning games. I will never be one to put pressure on an 18-year-old freshman just beginning to experience the college game, that’s an upper classmen job. But the overall talent level of freshmen entering D3 volleyball this season was equal too, if not greater than, the 2012/13 freshmen class. Six freshmen made the All-America list this season, and two of them (Anderson and York) played for Springfield.

The big game on everyone’s radar at the beginning of the season was the first Springfield-New Paltz match, hosted by Springfield in Blake Arena. The Pride were largely untested by this point, their only game against a ranked team being a 3-0 sweep of Wells. New Paltz by contrast went undefeated at both the Clash at Kean and the Juniata invitational; defeating Benedictine, Juniata, Stevenson, and Southern Virginia before suffering a tough 5-set home loss to the resurgent Vassar Brewers.

The first true test of the Springfield Prides 2020 season, and they pulled off a 5-set victory over their national rival SUNY New Paltz. They would follow this up with another 5-set victory over Vassar, cementing their status as the top team in D3 by defeating two of the top three teams in the division. The Pride would end the 2020 covid shortened season 18-1 against D3 competition; losing to a senior heavy NYU team. They would remain the #1 ranked team to end the year, would have 4 athletes gain All-American honors, and were primed to make a historic run for another national championship.

2021 Springfield

Springfield will undoubtedly start the 2021 season as the team to beat. They return Lilley, Brandow, York, Parker, and Anderson to their starting line up which in itself is enough talent to succeed in April. They are also being rumored to be gaining all-American caliber players Nate Reynolds (MB/Stevenson) and Jeremy Torres (OH/Elms). Nate Reynolds will provide an amazing upgrade to Springfield’s middle play, the only arguable weakness I could see in their team last season. Torres is fresh of a junior year All-American campaign as an OH, but I see him sliding into the libero spot if he suits up for the Pride. If this wasn’t enough, Coach Sullivan also landed possibly the top recruit in this years class in Austin Richards, a D1 level setter who is poised to compete for the starting job the day he sets foot in the gym.

Springfield is poised to make another Championship run next season, their expected roster is possibly the best Pride team to exist since the Falcone/O’Leary years. Likewise, the entire senior class of New Paltz has been rumored to be returning for the 2021 season; Grace, Skeete, O’Malley, Nolan, and Caark all looking for one more New Paltz Championship. These two super teams have their eyes locked on the same target, and their only path to success runs through each other. I can not wait.

Editors Note
The 2015 write up was changed to note the move of Chris Vaughn to libero for the NCAA tournament. 7/11/2020