Pond Talk: Final Four

Hello everyone! Dive in to this weeks Pond Talk, where the contributors and I give you our takes on the upcoming final four.

  1. Who’s playing the best ball heading into Kenosha?

Ramius: All of the final four teams are playing well, otherwise they wouldn’t be in the final four. Springfield has only lost once this year, so it’s difficult to gauge their performances as anything less than excellent after their 3rd victory over New Paltz.

However, the team which impresses me the most is Carthage. I think the Firebirds are the only team standing on equal footing with Springfield right now. They return to the final four after a convincing sweep of Dominican, a team which previously beat them in 5 earlier this year. Kudos to the committee for putting Carthage and Springfield on opposite sides of the bracket, as I think they’re the two strongest teams in the field left.

Harvey: Carthage hasn’t lost a match since January 28th. They took care of business as expected in the first round matchup with Mount Union. But then took down Dominican in 3 sets to clinch their Final 4 bid. While the win over Dominican wasn’t easy, hitting over .400 against a Top 5 squad was impressive to me. Their offense is going to be a tall task for Wentworth to slow down. 

From an individual standpoint, I want to highlight the play of Stevens MB Connor Feulner. He really shined in the Hoboken Regional. His overall numbers for the weekend: 15-4-22 (.500) with 17 Total Blocks in just 7 sets of action. Those are some ludicrous numbers 2.14 K/S & 2.42 B/S

Bradley: I think the hottest team right now really has to be Springfield. Ever since the Lasell match they’ve looked sharp. They’re the most prepared and determined team to get it done this weekend. Pending a win over Stevens, they will either face off against a red-hot previous National Champion or the team that kept them out of the tournament last year. That has to bring fuel to the fire.

  1. What was your favorite match from the first two rounds?

Ramius: I have two, because they were equally amazing matches fitting for the NCAA tournament. St. Joes Long Island’s upset over SVU might go down as one of my favorite moments of the season specifically for what it means for the Long Island Volleyball community and Coach Kropp. You don’t find many more passionate coaches than Kropp, and that was a win I’m happy we got to see for him, his boys, and our volleyball community in Long Island.

There always has to be at least one cincoset banger in the first round. Last years was Messiah vs Fontbonne, this year was North Central vs Dominican. North Central gave the Stars their only regular season loss this year, and watching the two programs battle it out with the highest stakes on the line is what makes the NCAA tournament so special.

Harvey: North Central and Dominican. We were treated to a rematch of one the best regular season matches in the first round and it did not disappoint. The biggest names came through with big performances, especially Jack McGuire and Jared Moser. The Cardinals reverse sweep bid came up just short as Dominican fell back on the experience they have leaned on all year long.

Bradley: SJLI vs. SVU was the most entertaining match that I watched this past weekend. St. Joes or Saint Peters? Can’t tell the difference. That Joes team played with such passion and intensity, and came out on top over a large and tenured Southern Virginia squad. It was cool to see a small school with all locals make a bit of noise in the tourney. I highly recommend checking out coach Kropp’s post-game interview if you haven’t heard it yet. The pure joy and emotion will make your day.

  1. What two teams do you have in the finals? Who has the edge?

Ramius: To get to a finals we’d have to conclude the final four, and I think both matches are worth discussing briefly.

Springfield vs Stevens: I think Springfield is a decided favorite in this match in a variety of areas. Specifically, I think where we will see the most separation will be from their advantage in the serve and pass game. I don’t think Stevens has the service pressure to knock the Pride around from the line, whereas the Pride are one of the better serving teams in the country. I think this match will go the way of serve-and-pass, so Springfield 3-0.

Carthage vs Wentworth: This one might come down strictly to the personnel. Laboo has had a tremendous year for the Leopards, and he and Oshman are one of the better pin tandems in the country. Issue is this makes the Leopards fairly easy to scout, and Carthage has tandems at both outside and middle who can take over the game if they’re allowed to. Simply put I believe it’ll be harder for Wentworth to stop Carthage’s offense than for Carthage to stop Wentworth. Laboo and Oshman are definitely enough to steal a set, but I think Carthage takes it 3-1, especially at home.

I’m tracking a final between Springfield and Carthage, and if that’s the case I think Springfield will finally be the underdog this season. Firebirds 3-1.

Harvey: Most folks are expecting a Carthage and Springfield showdown, and I’m not saying I disagree. Instead, I’ll highlight key factors in the two semi-finals that could lead to upset bids.

Carthage & Wentworth: Carthage can get a little shaky in serve receive at times and Wentworth really raised their service game at the Newark Regional. If they can continue to bring that heat and neutralize the Firebird middles, that will allow them to showcase their out of system blocking which was the difference against SJFC. If they can do those two things, the match will be closer than most expect. 

Springfield & Stevens: Stevens has won 19 straight and found strength in the incredible depth of their roster throughout the season, but more importantly they’ve developed an offensive identity around Koby Sherman on the right side during the postseason. The Pride have struggled (relatively speaking) with high level right sides in some of their closest matches (Shinaut from Lasell and Oshman from Wentworth) so I think Sherman could be in line for a big day. 

Bradley: I’ll take Springfield over Carthage in #cincosets.

Greatness is born in Struggle

I’ve had a lot of athletes reach out to me over the last year from all over the country, and the conversations have all revolved around similar themes. Whether it was a match loss, stressful moments with their teams, or failures at school, they all revolved around the struggles every young athlete in our landscape will experience throughout their careers in D3VB. Simply put… a lot of us have been going through it this year, fighting the hidden monsters we can’t see.

April Volleyball itself has been a triggering time for a lot of people everywhere, and it’s easy to look back on missed opportunities to wonder what may have gone wrong, what we could have done differently, how we could change our futures if we had done X Y or Z. 

In this I can honestly say all of you are not alone. One of the reasons I’m privileged to have Dr. Carbonara working with us here at the pond is because I know what these struggles are, and I know what he writes about has value.

I was a student athlete in ages past, I’ve been a part of the great wins, and I’ve been a part of the soul crushing losses. I get the grind of the season, it’s not an easy task to complete when you’re trying to juggle the responsibility of growing into a young adult alongside getting an education and winning matches.

We’ve all gone through it before, and anyone who says they haven’t is simply lying. But one of the most important lessons I learned a long time ago from a mentor of mine was that “Greatness is born in Struggle”. I found an excellent articulation of this last night from a random webpage. The words are not my own, but the message is still the same. 

To grow in stature requires growing pains. To become something more than what we presently are we must shed our lesser self. To rise in achievement demands that we overcome obstacles never before faced”.

Greatness is born in struggle, and if you aren’t struggling at some points, I would ask are you truly living? Because life is full of challenges and conflicts which will test your grit and resilience, your ability to be vulnerable, and your ability to trust yourself and others in the face of adversity.

Failure is a natural part of our growing process in life. You will not go through life without failing at something, and how you respond to failure will be the best measurement of your character. Some of you will internalize it, let it fester and blind you to a chance to grow. I can only implore you to NOT do this and recognize the opportunity you have in front of you. For without this failure you will not become stronger, and overcoming failure is one of the most exhilarating feelings in life.

I look back on my young career as a player/coach, and I can easily identify the most significant match loss New Paltz ever had which shaped the future of the program for a generation. Conversely, I look back at last year’s Springfield Pride team, the first Pride team not to make the NCAA tournament in our landscape’s history. The loss inflicted in that moment, in a year plagued by a Pandemic and match cancellations, was most likely earth shattering. Their response this year has been a season of excellence matched by only some of the all-time great teams. I’d be shocked if that moment didn’t play a part in their approach this year, because greatness is born in struggle.

The loss of loved one’s can leave you hollow, the pressures of the day can wear you down, and losing sucks. The taste of defeat is bitter regardless of where you experience it, whether it’s on the court or not. But as someone whose entire career was based on overcoming infinite struggle in our world of D3VB, I implore you all to recognize the value of these moments. Because your greatness is just around the corner, if you have the humility and strength to learn from your experience. Embrace it, and keep moving forward.

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