With a splash of confetti and an enthusiastic student body pouring onto Blake Arena floor, the Springfield College men’s volleyball team defeated Carthage College in three straight sets to capture the first-ever NCAA Division III National Championship title.
“Our guys did a great job,” Springfield Head Coach Charlie Sullivan said. “We really focused all season; we are a truly driven group. Their focus today was exceptional.”
History is now sealed within Springfield’s Blake Arena after hosting the inaugural event that came alive due to years of hard work from many individuals who saw to it that DIII men’s volleyball obtained a national championship.
“High school boys’ volleyball is tremendous and there are teams everywhere throughout the country. What we are hoping is that more Division III institutions [realize] this is a great sport to add, especially if they have women’s volleyball, which is our most popular sport in Division III,” said Louise McCleary, athletics director at Elms College. McCleary also serves as the Director of Division III governance at the NCAA national office.
The NCAA staff is credited with doing a solid job of running the inaugural tournament and laying the groundwork to prepare for the event, which included coordinating the team selection process.
Men’s volleyball has been played at the college level for more than 20 years, but in order for a DIII National Championship Tournament to take place, there had to be 50 institutions competing. A vote took place in 2011 approving the volleyball championship, and organizers were given one year to prepare. McCleary said with the 58 teams that are currently competing, they decided on a nine-team championship.
In addition to the last two teams standing, the other seven competitors were Elms College (Chicopee, Mass.), Baruch College (New York City), Kean University (Union Township, N.J.), Hunter College (New York City), University of California-Santa Cruz, Rivier College (Nashua, N.H.), and Nazareth College (Pittsford, N.Y.).
The tournament featured several exciting matchups including five-set matches between Carthage and Nazareth College, and UC Santa Cruz and Rivier College, both in the quarterfinals.
Located in the birthplace of another popular American sport, basketball, Springfield College’s namesake James Naismith Court remained vibrant with big-time DIII volleyball players like Carthage’s veteran outside hitter Randy Hansen, who entered the tournament with 450 kills; Hunter’s high-flying outside hitter Christopher Newcomb; UC Santa Cruz’s mustachioed setter Paul Leon; Nazareth’s athletic middle blocker Rob Kraft; and Springfield’s talented second-year libero Nick Ferry. The student crowd, which was packed shoulder-to-shoulder for an exciting Sunday afternoon of volleyball, added a vibrant and exciting element to the final match.
“This was an amazing event. Springfield did a great job,” Hunter College Head Coach Ray Bello said. “The experience these kids had was memorable.”
When all was said and done, the All-Tournament Team included Springfield’s Mike Pelletier, Greg Falcone, and Keaton Pieper; Carthage’s Randy Hansen and Connor Wexter; Hunter’s Christopher Newcomb; and Salvatore La Cavera III from UC Santa Cruz.
The tournament’s Most Outstanding Player nod went to outside hitter Pelletier, a great feat considering the hurdle he faced over the past year. He was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a form of Crohn’s disease, and has suffered from serious fatigue—he said he could hardly walk up the stairs on his own strength unless aided by his father—and simultaneously dealt with extreme stomach complications and dehydration. The third-year starter said he was grateful to be healthy enough to play this season.
“I feel incredibly lucky that I had the resources to get back to where I was,” he said. “My parents were with me all summer, Coach (Charlie) Sullivan texting me everyday seeing how I was doing, and my teammates keeping me positive.
“Once I got back on track, I was like, ‘it is going to be alright,’ and got back mentally.”
The first NCAA Division III tournament was one to remember, and all involved are looking forward to another successful championship next season.
“This tournament is a moment these teams will never forget,” McCleary said.
Originally published in July 2012