SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – April 11, 2008 – Vassar's men's volleyball team will play for a national championship. The Brewers, seeded No. 4 in the Molten Division III Men’s Invitational Championships, knocked off No. 1 seed UC Santa Cruz, 3-0 (30-28, 32-30, 30-26) to advance to the championship match against host Springfield, a 3-1 victor over Juniata in the opening match, on Saturday evening at Springfield College’s Blake Arena at 8:00 pm.
The last time a No. 1 seed lost in the first round of the Molten was Clarke College in 2001, which lost in a match also played at Springfield’s Blake Arena to No. 4 D’Youville College in four games.
The victory over Santa Cruz was the second time Vassar has defeated a No. 1 nationally ranked team, the first time coming in the Vassar Invitational in February, when the Brewers defeated then No. 1 Nazareth. In a display of fierce hustling, aptly played defense and a high potent offense that hit .398 for the match, the Brewers prevailed in three straight, despite Santa Cruz holding a 54-51 edge in kills.
Each of the three games were hotly contested, but throughout the match the Brewers were able to get to every loose ball and made every big kill. Vassar was led by sophomore Phil Tully (Huntington Station, NY), who had 14s 14 kills, 12 each from Evan Fredericksen (Menlo Park, CA), Soctt Leserman (Manhattan Beach, CA), Steve Micucci (Millis, MA) and 10 from Scott Leserman, who hit an astonishing .769 (10-0-13) for the match. But the remarkable kill percentages were not reserved for Leserman. Micucci hit .733 (12-1-15) and Fredericksen hit .500 (12-2-20). John Kessenich had 46 assists to lead the Brewers.
"We had several players really step up tonight and have just terrific matches," said head coach Jonathan Penn. "Micucci has worked so hard and I am so glad that he was able to put his game on display on this stage tonight."
On Saturday evening, the Brewers will meet Springfield for the third time this season. Vassar lost to the Pride 3-2 on January 26 in Springfield and 3-1 on February 8 at the Nazareth Tournament.
"I have the utmost respect for Charlie Sullivan and the Springfield College program" said Penn. "We always battle it out with Springfield and tommorrow will be no different. I do know that we will have to play at our highest level again tommorrow"
After a slow start in which each team was measuring each other, and Santa Cruz holding a two to three point lead in the early stages, the first game got interesting two-thirds in with Santa Cruz holding a 19-18 lead and attempting to inch away. The Brewers kept their poise and were within one point five times until tying the match at 25-25 off a Santa Cruz attack error. It would be the first of four ties in the opening game (26-26, 27-27, 28-28). Kills by Micucci and three down the stretch by Tully, including a perfectly placed kill kept Vassar within striking distance. At 28-28, Santa Cruz had a service error pushed the Brewers ahead 29-28. A Tully kill closed the first game out for the Brewers. Tully was the architect of Vassar’s perseverance, registering 8 kills on a .455 attack percentage. Micucci had a perfect first game with 5 kills on 5 attempts, many of those coming when Vassar was able to hang tight with Santa Cruz and pull out the win. Kessenich had 17 assists in the opening game. The Brewers hit .462 as a team (18-6-26).
After trailing most of the second game, Vassar was able to get an all-important tying point from Ben Coleman (Brookline, MA), who at 23-24, had his serve land perfectly in the court as the Santa Cruz players watched the ball fall in. Tied at 24-24, the final stages of the match were dramtic. Vassar went ahead 27-26 after successfully stopping three Santa Cruz attack attempts. Vassar had game point at 29-28, but a big kill from National Player of the Year Bryan Shires tied the match at 29-29. The two teams tied again, 30-30, with Vassar getting point No. 31 off a Leserman kill and the winning tally on a Santa Cruz error. Tully had six kills, Leserman and Frdericksen five each. The Brewers kept their attack percentage strong (18-5-40) at .325. Santa Cruz was a notch better (.353), but it was a resilient Brewers defense that made big plays at the right time,
Tightly contested in the same fashion as the first two games, the early portion of the third game saw a series of service errors by both teams keep the match tight. Tied at 14-14, 15-15 and 17-17, the Brewers went ahead 19-17 on successive points by Tom Pawlowski (Havertown, PA), but the match was far from over, and Santa Cruz, facing elimination, fought for every point. The Brewers were a step ahead, particularly Micucci, who had six kills on seven attempts in the third game and Leserman who had 4 kills on 6 attempts, and spearheaded the final two points of the match in a 30-26 victory. The last time the match was tied was 22-22 following a kill by Santa Cruz’ Brad Sullivan. The Brewers then crept ahead and at 28-26 got the final points.