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2017 NCAA Division III Men’s Volleyball National Championship: Springfield, New Paltz Set for Epic Showdown At Blake Arena

 

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Photo via Shawn McFarland

 

If you were at Blake Arena yesterday following the 3-0 sweep of Stevens Institute, you heard the clear chants of “We want New Paltz” from the Maroon Crew. The Springfield students’ wishes were answered, as the Pride is set to take on the SUNY New Paltz Hawks at 4pm today in the 2017 NCAA Division III Men’s Volleyball Championship. In addition to the weight of the matches name, there will be a lot riding on this game in relation to the two program’s history books.

Springfield has collected a massive haul of championship hardware since the program entered Division III competition in the 1990s. The Pride has claimed nine national championships, the most recent reign coming between 2012 and 2014, when they ran a three peat. Springfield has not been absent from the national title game in almost a decade. But recently, the championship match has consisted of more heartbreak than jubilation for the Pride. The team fell to Stevens in 2015, and, more importantly New Paltz, last spring when competing for the championship. To the Pride, they have been absent from the Division III mountaintop for too long, and will seek redemption against a team that dealt them heartbreak one year earlier.

The Hawks are defending champion. They are in their final stretch of a fourth straight NCAA tournament campaign. And yet they are still technically the underdog in this scenario as the No. 4 seed, and pride themselves in their ability to pull out close, five set contests. During the regular season, New Paltz was swept in the March match 3-0 against Springfield and later 3-1 in the April match. To beat a team three consecutive times in a season is a tall order, in which a Pride squad, who hits .421 will have to answer in order to retake the throne. If Springfield fails to do so, New Paltz will claim back to back championships and firmly establish a dynasty of their own, under head coach Radu Petrus, by once again denying the most prestigious of Division III volleyball teams a chip for the third straight season.

The stakes are high and the chips are on the table. Get to Blake for 4. To say the very least, it should be good one.

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2017 NCAA Division III Men’s Volleyball Tournament: Regardless of the Winner, New Paltz or Wentworth Will Complete An Intriguing Championship Game Storyline

Every competitive team in this years 2017 NCAA Division III Men’s Volleyball Tournament wants to test their skills against the best – against the seemingly immortal Springfield Pride. Springfield has been a titan on the loose this year, as the Pride has no conference affiliation and boasts the staggering numbers of a .421 hit percentage along with 12.6 kills, 11.9 assists, 2.07 blocks, and 2.43 aces (all per set).

Now for the Pride’s potential matchups…

SUNY New Paltz Hawks: Under head coach Radu Petrus, the New Paltz Hawks have proven themselves as a dynasty alongside Springfield that has consistently seen the NCAA Tournament. This is New Paltz’s fourth straight, and fourth overall appearance at the Dance and they will face off against team in Springfield who took the regular season series 2-0, with a 3-1 March loss, and a 3-0 April defeat. With a roster armed with Anthony Bonilla, Matt Grace, and middle blockers Steven Woessner and Jake Roessler, the Hawks would head into the match poised with hunger for a repeat, and an itch for revenge against the top ranked Pride.

Wentworth Institute of Technology Leopards: Like New Paltz, Wentworth is in search for an established annual presence in the NCAA Tournament behind the young head coach Evin Giglio. Giglio, a Springfield graduate in 2010 and former middle blocker captain for the Pride, was named the 2017 AVCA’s Thirty Under 30 Award in recognition of 30 of the most promising young coaches in the country. How poetic it would be for Giglio to navigate a hard hitting Leopard’s squad to the championship game, against his former squad that is now the titan of Division III volleyball.

2017 NCAA Division III Men’s Volleyball Tournament: Stevens Offense Will Need to Perform Even Better In Order to Upset Springfield

 

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Photo via Stevens Athletics

Beating the Springfield Pride is, technically possible. For the Stevens Ducks, they will need to bring an even more polished attack against the No. 1 seed in the nation as they prepare for their appearance at the Final Four. In the Elite 8 against Dominican, Stevens committed 12 errors. Springfield’s offense is hitting .421. The Ducks will likely need to keep the miscues beneath double figures. When taking the Pride’s staggering hit percentage into consideration, Stevens cannot afford to hit below .200, something that they were able to avoid in the quarterfinal tilt against the Stars.

Springfield is yet to face Stevens this year, so the Ducks could catch Springfield on their heels if their attack is even better than its performance against Dominican. If Stevens can bring the pressure early and boost their defense’s confidence and composure early, it may be able to pressure the Pride enough to effect their serving. Although the statistics imply that Springfield is sound in almost category, their Achilles heel is that of the fundamentals. Going into the semis, the Pride has committed 489 service errors. It will be interesting to see if Stevens can take advantage of this and snag a set or two. This will have to be the procedure, because the only thing that is more (nearly) impossible than beating Springfield (at home), would be to sweep them.

Prediction: Springfield wins 3-1

2017 Division III Men’s Volleyball Tournament: How the Pride Will Fare In the Quarterfinals vs Hunter

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Photo via Springfield College Athletics
In their sole meeting during the regular season, Hunter and Springfield‘s March faceoff lasted three sets, with the Pride taking the contest 3-0. The largest difference between the two teams was the hit percentage, with Springfield striking .692 on the evening, and the Hawks a subzero -.015. For the season, Hunter is hitting .276, while the Pride’s mark stands at .419.

Springfield comes into the quarterfinals studded with five ECAC All-Region Athletes in Luis Vega, Luis Garcia Rubio, Kyle Jasuta, Ricardo Padilla Ayala, and Eli Irrizary Pares. Vega was named ECAC Division III North Men’s Volleyball Co-Offensive Player of the Year, while Garcia Rubio, Jasuta, Padilla Ayala, and Irrizary Pares were all named ECAC North All-Stars.

Padilla Ayala will be a key player to watch for the Pride in the team’s opening contest against Hunter, as the junior was a standout in the regular season meeting with 12 kills on a .688 hit percentage.

For the Hawks, their offense will have to bring its A game, so a player to watch for Hunter will be senior setter Nicholas Sanchez. Sanchez is No. 8 in the nation in assists per set with a mark of 10.26. Hunter will also need a big game out of middle blocker Steven Tarquinio to help lead the defensive charge against Springfield’s potent offense. The senior was named the 2017 CUNYAC Tournament MVP, leading the Hawks to their second straight CUNYAC championship with 0.95 blocks per set.

When comparing the two teams head-to-head, it will be difficult for Hunter to find a rhythm if the match plays out anything similar to the game in March. Springfield is coming off of a bye, and after dropping a late season game to MIT, 3-2, it can be anticipated that the Pride will want to set a tone similar to what they played with during the February stretch of the season (10-0 overall, 30-0 in sets), after being humbled so close to tournament play.

Prediction: Springfield wins 3-0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Springfield College Softball: The Depth Chart Behind Loda

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Via Springfield College Athletics
It goes without saying: Talia Loda is really, really, really good at her job on the softball field. In 14 starts, she’s claimed 12 wins (10 of those complete games), while striking out 63. She’s already 16 K’s away from her career high (79). Her earned run average is a microscopic 0.61. She’s been invaluable to the 2017 Pride’s 23-5 run. But it doesn’t stop at Loda. The team ERA is under two – 1.99. Here is the depth chart behind the 5’2 ace from southern Connecticut:

Marisa Valenti (Freshman) – 3 appearances, 3 innings pitched, 4 strikeouts, 6.30 ERA

Okay, don’t blow Valenti’s 6.30 ERA out of proportion. She’s a first year pitcher who’s thrown only three innings. Aside from the earned run average, her other numbers are relatively low – five and under in each category. One can start with her five hits and three runs (all earned) allowed. In a small sample size, the numbers suggests she’s been really aggressive with attacking the strike zone, and isn’t afraid to challenge the batter. She’s only walked two opponents and has struck out four in three frames (technically she’s averaging more than one strikeout per inning). She’s one of the two underclassmen on a seasoned pitching staff, so keep an eye on Valenti through the next few seasons.

Jordyn Moquin (Senior) – 5 appearances, 1 save, 5 innings pitched, 3 strikeouts, 3.71 ERA

She’s been more of a relief pitcher throughout her Springfield tenure – as Moquin has only started three games. Moquin will also see a significant drop in innings pitched: 42.2 frames in sophomore year, 44.1 in her junior year, only 5.2 innings in 28 games in 2017.

But in her three years with the Pride, Moquin has been effective. She’s never finished with an ERA over four, and has a solid career ERA of 2.87. Much like Valenti, she has allowed less than five earned runs on the year. Moquin also has the squad’s only save on the year, so she can be an option in the later innings, later in the season.

Nicole Cring (Senior) – 9 appearances, 4-1 record, 1 complete game, 31 innings pitched, 18 strikeouts, 3.57 ERA

Cring is a very reliable No. 3 option for head coach Kate Bowen. She tossed a complete game in a 10-1 mercy win against Wis.-River Falls on March 17. She’s got an ERA that hovers around 3.5. Throughout her career, she’s limited the opposition to one hit twice, most recently in a three inning outing against Emerson. She’s also earned five career shutouts.

Her previous three seasons suggest that she will continue to model consistency, and may have upcoming signature moments in her final season as the Pride creeps closer to crunch time.

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Via Springfield Athletics
Shelby Allen (Sophomore) – 12 appearances, 7-3 record, 3 complete games, 55 innings pitched, 49 strikeouts, 2.93 ERA

Allen has played the perfect Robin to compliment Loda’s role as Batwoman. The duo has combined for 112 strikeouts, and has 19 of Springfield’s 23 wins. The numbers for Allen really speak for themselves, the sample size suggesting that she would be an ace on a team that lacks a pitcher of Loda’s caliber. She’s made it halfway to 100 strikeouts in 12 appearances, and has held an ERA below three. Allen is still an underclassman, but she has shown flashes of dominance in the past that suggest she’s just about ready to take full charge of the circle. She’s already turned in a handful of signature performances: a 10 strikeout, complete game victory on the road against Eastern Connecticut State, a no-hit performance against Westfield State last year, and three career shutouts, most recently six innings of shutout ball versus Coast Guard.

Though the team has a group of veteran pitchers, and will be graduating Loda after next year, Allen is waiting in the wings. If she continues at this pace, she will be the next to succeed as the leader of the pitching staff.

Springfield College Women’s Lacrosse: After Starting a Total of Zero Games In Her First Two Years With the Pride, Kayla Schroeher Has Emerged as One of Springfield’s More Lethal Offensive Forces

 

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Via Springfield College Athletics
Kayla Schroeher’s name was not inserted into the Springfield College women’s lacrosse starting lineup until opening day of the 2017 season – her junior year. Schroeher saw action as an underclassman a total of 19 times: 12 games in her freshman year, seven games in her sophomore year.

In those 19 contests she registered a total of six goals and eight points. The start of junior year was originally shaping out to be another tepid season of goal scoring. She scored none as a starter in her first four games, and two goals in her first seven.

But then, on the doorstep of April, Schroeher caught fire against Wellesley. She converted three of her four free position shots, and finished the game with a career high seven goals. From an opponent’s standpoint, Schroeher’s confidence has been dangerously high since. Following a contest where she virtually carried the Pride’s offense to a win over the Blue (seven of the 15 team goals scored), the third year attacking midfielder would, literally, not miss through the team’s next three contests. Schroeher shot 100 percent between April 2 and April 8. Five goals against MIT – five shots. One goal on one shot versus Coast Guard, four on four against Mount Holyoke. Since the MIT tilt, she has collected one assist in each game. In her most recent start versus Westfield State, she fell just one short of tying her career high in goals with six on the day.

The surge has helped Springfield remain undefeated against conference opponents, and has helped revive the Pride after a rough 3-4 month of March. As her squad turns the corner towards its final four regular season games of the year, Schroeher’s totals sit at 29 points and 25 goals – second behind only Shelby Corsano. Schroeher has been the epitome of the mantra “trust the process” in 2017.

 

Springfield College Men’s Lacrosse: Can Reynolds Become One of the Greatest Keepers the Pride Has Ever Had?

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Via Mark Finerty
He started his Springfield lacrosse career as a sophomore, and Jake Reynolds has potential to finish his career with over 400 saves. The second year goalkeeper out of Scituate, Mass. has established himself as one of the Pride’s best players – the anchor of the Springfield defense that holds the opposition to little resistance against an offense that features Tom Hurley, Jack Vail, Ty Daugstrap, and Dom Abate.

In his sophomore year, Reynolds appeared in 16 games, and was the starting keeper for 13 of those contests. His goals allowed on average (GAA), registered at 8.50, and finished the season with a 60 percent save percentage. His career high in saves at the time, came in the first round of the NCAA Division III tournament. Reynolds stopped 19 shots in a nail-biting contest against No. 9 Middlebury, that last for three overtimes, with the Pride eventually coming out on top 11-10.

Reynolds would finish his sophomore campaign with 166 saves. After starting nine games in 2017, he has already registered 133 stops with five games to play, and is on pace to at least tie that mark. Reynolds has boosted his career high in saves to 21 this year, and has garnered Defensive Player of the Week Honors four times.

But how does the second year goalie stack up against the all-time great Pride keepers? If 166 is the number for saves that is put under the microscope, Reynolds would have to double his total saves next year when comparing his sophomore total and projected total for junior year. The program record for most saves in a single season is held by Tim Grant (1991) who collected 295. If Reynolds was to add 100 extra saves next year compared to his sophomore year, that would give him 266 saves, still 31 short of Grant. Though such a season would launch him into second place all-time.

On the all-time saves list, Reynolds has already cracked the top 10, with 299 total stops. He is currently ranked at No. 9 and can climb as high as No. 6 if he posts a senior season with 165 saves. Regardless of where he stands as one of the Pride’s all-time goalkeepers, Reynolds will be a key instrument for Springfield’s contention through the next two summers.

 

 

Springfield College Baseball: The Pride’s Pitching Will Be Key Through April

 

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Via Springfield College Athletics
Out of 34 games last year, the Springfield College baseball team finished with a dozen victories. The team ERA was 7.33.

Flip the calendar to April of 2017 and the Pride already has eight wins, and has started their NEWMAC campaign with two straight wins for the first time since 2006.

Since returning from Florida, Springfield has three victories, with two of them, a comeback 8-7 win over Dean and a scrappy 6-5 victory against MIT, being decided by a single run. The game against Dean was a game of resilience for the Pride’s men on the mound. After Dean struck for six runs in the first, the Springfield bullpen surrendered only one additional run. This allowed the offense to break through for six unanswered runs in the eighth inning to pull ahead. In the win, freshman Nick Naples shut the door on Dean in the ninth and earned his first career save. In the win versus MIT, the Pride would only need two pitchers Tyler Kelly (5.0 innings, four strikeouts) and Jack Weinberger (4.0 innings, three hits allowed, four strikeouts, and the save).

In its two losses however, Springfield has allowed a total of 30 runs; in a 20-5 loss to Amherst and 10-4 defeat at the hands of Westfield State. The pitching as a whole hasn’t been spectacular, but so far the team ERA is significantly lower, checking in at 4.58 while the opponent ERA sits at 5.60.

Two key pitchers thus far have been the young duo of Shawn Babineau and Brian Johnson. As a first year pitcher, Babineau has compiled a starter best 0.54 ERA over two starts. In addition to his no-hitter against Colby-Sawyer, Johnson has a strikeout per nine inning ratio of 9.39 and a 2.35 ERA.

Thus far, Springfield can be hit or miss in the pitching department, but the staff as a whole has put forth a collective effort to shut down the opposition when it matters most, and the team has eight W’s in 13 tries to show for it.

 

 

ESPN 30 for 30s One And Not Done Another Masterpiece By Jonathan Hock That Gives Viewers Entire Different Perspective of John Calipari

Last night, Springfield College was given the privilege to view the newest installment of ESPN’s 30 for 30. The documentary directed by Jonathan Hock chronicled Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari’s coaching journey, and the topic of controversy that is the “one-and-done” collegiate athlete. With the screening occurring one full week prior to the nationwide release and students and faculty in the presence of a 10-time Emmy Award winner in Hock and his director of photography Alastair Christopher, the event was a top highlight in the Springfield school year.

Having been able to attend the screening and the closing Q&A session, I was able to get a better understanding of both the story behind Calipari, and how gifted of a journalist Jonathan Hock truly is.

What the viewer can expect from “One and Not Done” is an in-depth piece of journalism that is able to lift Calipari’s image beyond that of “sleazy” and “corrupt.” It highlights his ferociously competitive nature that Hock is able to ingeniously connect with Calipari’s past. In addition to giving the audience a window into his character, Hock introduces an entire different perspective on the collegiate one-and-done culture.

Although it is of different context and filming style, I saw this documentary by Hock similar to that of his film on the 1980 Soviet National team, “Of Miracles And Men.” I found it similar in a sense of how it can change a viewer’s perspective on who they vilify.

The film will premiere on ESPN on Thursday, April 13…

 

 

Springfield College Softball: Just How Good Is This ’17 Squad?

 

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Via Springfield College Athletics

It’s like it’s 1996 over at Potter Field. The Springfield College softball team is rolling, and 12 games into the season, there has been no signs of the Pride letting up.

Following a 9-1 start in Kissimmee, Fla., Springfield returned from its spring break trip to face a NEWMAC foe that was arguably off to just as hot of a start in the Coast Guard Bears. Coast Guard entered the March 25 weekend double header contest 10-2, and thanks to a good old early spring New England snow storm that brushed western Massachusetts, the Bears faced off against the Pride on their home field.

But Coast Guard couldn’t even score a run. The Pride shut it out 9-0 in game one, and 8-0 in game two. The 9-0 victory was padded by Kirsten Drobiak, who finished the game six for seven at the plate, while delivering the back breaking grand slam in the bottom of the sixth. Talia Loda spun her fourth shutout of the season, which improves her record to 6-0 and tallies her strikeout total to 18. Loda’s 0.68 ERA thus far is a career best. Shelby Allen followed suit in game two, as the sophomore pitched a complete game, which boosts her record to 3-1. It was a pure clinic coming from the Springfield side considering that the team hung 17 runs on a formidable opponent, and exited New London without a single scratch on the team ERA.

What has made this 2017 machine roar to an 11-1 record through its first 12, is a combination of two factors. First is the overpowering effectiveness that has come from within the pitching circle for the Pride. The charge, which has been led by Loda and Allen up to this point, has garnered a collective ERA of 1.43. Opponents have been stymied. And it doesn’t help when one has to deal with the trio of Drobiak (.444, one homerun, 18 RBIs), Carianna Gasdia (.535, one homerun, 10 stolen bases) and Allie Wheeler (.500, one homerun, 9 RBIs, 5 stolen bases) on the other side of the ball. The three have helped lead the team to a .338 batting average, and have dented team ERAs since the start of the season. The Pride’s opposition’s ERA this year is 4.54.

A hot start can never truly be dwelled upon, in a long regular season. A strong finish to compliment a strong start is what cements the legacy of great teams. The Pride is playing as loose as it possibly can, and its yet to let up efficiency should put other NEWMAC teams on notice.