by Matt Paulson
The University of La Verne men’s volleyball team retained its No.1 ranking in Division III this past weekend when it emerged as the champion of the Molten Men’s Classic held in the Supertents on March 8-9. The success continued as ULV defeated New York University and Concordia in encore matches played March 12 and 13.
ULV played its first match at 1 p.m., on March 8, against Dominican University from Chicago. The Leopards had previously defeated Dominican in three games on March 6.
This match would prove ULV to be, once again, the much better team as the Leopards started their second team and managed to defeat the Stars 30-17, 30-18 and 30-20 in front of an attendance of 37.
In game one, ULV’s second team overpowered the Stars striking 13 kills for a team hitting percentage of .333. Dominican mustered a lackluster total of six kills with 10 errors for a team percentage of -.133.
“The ‘scrub squad’ picked it up strong,” said freshman outside hitter Mark Mimms.
The second game ended nearly identical play with like results. Once again, ULV outmatched Dominican tallying 11 kills for a percentage of .222. The Stars chalked up only five kills for a percentage of .053.
After the Leopards victory in game three and the conclusion of the match, 14 players had contributed to ULV’s team totals of 36 kills, .264 hitting percentage, 32 assists, 11 blocks and 10 aces in just over one hour. The Leopards held Dominican to only 21 kills, a .024 hitting percentage and three blocks.
Senior captain Tom Hilton led ULV with five kills followed by senior outside hitter Will Paulson, junior middle Nate Silva, junior opposite Jay Chapman and Mimms with four. Mimms led ULV in serving as he found holes in the court for three aces. Junior outside hitter Josh Miller and freshman opposite Dwayne Wibeto also contributed to the Leopard success logging three kills each.
“Dominican is a great group of guys; it’s always a good time when we get to play them,” said Wibeto.
Match No. 3 of the Molten Men’s Classic pitted the Leopards against the University of California Santa Cruz at 7 p.m. This match would clearly decide the best Division III team on the West Coast.
ULV undoubtedly snatched that title by 8:08 p.m. defeating the Banana Slugs in three games with scores of 30-21, 30-25 and 30-26 in front of an attendance of 107. In the three matches they have played against UC Santa Cruz this year, the Leopards have not dropped one game to the No.6 ranked team in the nation.
La Verne outhit and outblocked UCSC 47-43 and 9-5 in the match.
“We took advantage of the mismatches,” said Hilton.
Senior captain Nate Michael led ULV with 15 kills for a hitting percentage of .458 followed by senior Will Paulson and junior Jake Swann, who tallied 10 kills apiece. Junior middle Nate Silva added nine kills for a percentage of .500 on the evening.
“That team has gotten better each time we’ve played them. They really impressed me this time,” said Paulson.
“It was a nice way to start the tournament; it really gave us momentum. Also, to beat them three times secured the bid,” said Hilton. He was referring to the idea that beating UC Santa Cruz in all three matches this year gave ULV a nearly undeniable right to the national tournament to be held this April in New York.
The following evening showcased the championship match when ULV faced the No.2 ranked team in the nation, the NYU Violets at 7 p.m.
The Supertents boasted an attendance of 125 for the match, which both teams came into without a defeat on the tournament. NYU had beaten Dominican 31-29, 30-24, 17-30 and 30-26 Friday afternoon and UC Santa Cruz 33-31, 32-30 and 30-18 Saturday afternoon.
The first game, although nearly statistically even with NYU marking 14 kills for a percentage of .320 to ULV’s 13 for a percentage of .417, the Leopards came out on top with a 30-24 victory.
The second game shined a little more in ULV’s favor as they would find a 30-23 victory riding upon a hitting percentage of .324 to NYU’s .143.
The momentum of game three shifted to ULV’s East Coast foe. The Violets nailed 20 kills for a percentage of .238 and held the Leopards to only nine kills and a percentage of .083 on their way to a 30-28 win.
“They didn’t beat us that third game; we lost,” Paulson said.
ULV bounced back and reiterated just one of the reasons why they are the top-ranked team in Division III as they sent NYU back to their Redondo Beach hotel with a fourth game beating of 30-20 to conclude the match.
Michael led the Leopards in the match with 14 kills, while adding an ace and nine defensive digs along the way.
Paulson, who was an all-around weapon for ULV mounting nine kills, three aces and 13 digs, still expressed frustration, “Even though they’re the second ranked team in the nation, they’re nowhere near us. It’s disappointing that we lost a game to them.”
Junior setter, Lance Corporal Scott Alley, as always, played a principal part as he helped carry ULV to victory with 39 assists, 13 digs, four blocks, one ace and one kill on the evening.
“It’s a good win,” Michael said.
With the victory, ULV clinched the Molten Men’s Classic and three all-tournament selections. Juniors Alley and Silva secured spots, and senior captain Michael was awarded Most Valuable Player.
At 7 p.m., March 12, once again in the Supertents, ULV hosted NYU for the teams’ second match-up of the week.
The Leopards, however, did not carry the momentum of Saturday night’s fourth game fire-bombing into the match as they went down 23-17 to the Violets in the first. ULV regrouped and rallied to tie the game at 26. With senior captains Michael and Hilton beckoning the support of the majority of the 252 fans on hand, the Leopards rode to a 33-31 victory.
“After that, I knew the match was ours,” said Hilton.
Games two and three proved Hilton’s assumption valid as ULV pounded their way to 30-26 and 30-24 triumphs to take the match in three straight games.
Michael, who was awarded National Player of the Week for the week of March 11, led the Leopards in kills with a match-high of 21 and a hitting percentage of .471. Swann added 12 for an astoundingly high team-low percentage of .310. Silva threw in nine kills for a team-high percentage of .533, one defensive dig and two blocks. Alley, who once again proved vital to ULV’s success as he set up 50 balls, dug seven and single-blocked one, expressed gratitude towards the ULV fans in attendance.
“I think the turning point of the match was when I finally sacked up and set [Alley] for the greatest kill ever,” said Michael in reference to a point in the second game when Alley, the setter, dug a ball to Michael, the opposite, who set it back to Alley for a kill.
“I’m just really thankful we got to play them at home first. They’re going to be an entirely different team over there. These matches also give us a good gauge in that [NYU] is the best team on the East Coast,” said Michael.
On the following Wednesday evening, ULV faced off against Division II Concordia College from New York. Concordia, a school of about five hundred students, awards a total of 4-1/2 athletic scholarships. Of the players on the Clippers’ roster, nine of them are international, and only one of them is below six feet tall.The first game started as a seesaw battle. The two teams traded kills back and forth until the score was notched at 18-18 when Colombian sophomore outside hitter Diego Escobar came up to serve. Escobar pounded two aces as he served 11 consecutive points on the way to a 30-19 Clipper victory.
Down 1-0 in the match, ULV needed to bounce back in the second. The Leopards did just that as they played to a 22-18 lead. With another Escobar ace, Concordia regrouped to tie the game at 24. The Leopards did not falter, though, as they made their way to a steady 30-26 win.
Games three and four were all green and orange. ULV continued to hold the Clippers back on their heels as they marched their way to 30-22 and 30-24 conquests keeping their undefeated streak against teams below Division I alive.
Michael and Swann led the Leopards with respective totals of 16 and 14 kills in the match. Paulson led the team in defensive digs with 12 while adding eight kills, three blocks and an assist to ULV’s sums. Junior middle David Engle granted seven kills, a percentage of .400 and six blocks to the Leopard cause. Alley provided his perpetual consistency as he totaled 45 assists, five digs, two blocks and two kills. As a team, ULV battered 53 kills for a percentage of .261 and amassed 13.5 blocks.
The four-game mastery ended a run of seven matches throughout eight days in which ULV accomplished a perfect 7-0 record.
The players and coaches expressed ultimate content with the recent success but conveyed obvious, justifiable exhaustion.
“It was an important week to get through mentally in order to get ready for the national championships. There were so many chances for us to let down tonight after our emotional championship match Saturday night, but we didn’t,” said assistant coach Morgan Coberly.
The Leopards’ next match is at 7 p.m. on March 24, against Harvard University in the Supertents where ULV will attempt to extend an 11 match winning streak.