Second-seeded Nazareth, in just its seventh season of intercollegiate play, defeated top-seed Springfield in four sets (25-23, 22-25, 25-23, 25-22) Saturday to claim its first national title in men's volleyball. Nazareth won the 2011 Molten Division III Men's Invitational Volleyball Championship before a spirited crowd of more than 1,000 fans at the Kidera Gymnasium.
Senior outside hitter Hans Schroeder was named the Most Valuable Player after tallying a team-high 15 kills in the title match and 18 kills in Friday's five-set semifinal win over third-seeded Carthage. Nazareth ran its winning streak to 22 matches and finished the season at 31-3 overall. The Golden Flyers' last loss was Feb. 11 to Rivier. Springfield, winners of six national titles and two of the last three, falls to 16-14 overall.
"This is what we dreamed of when we started this seven years ago," said a jubilant Nazareth Coach Cal Wickens. "This an exciting thing for the whole Nazareth community. I couldn't be happier for our guys."
Both teams posted strong hitting percentages - .393 for Nazareth and .421 for Springfield. In addition to Schroeder, junior outside hitter Billy Gimello and sophomore setter EJ Wells-Spicer represented the Golden Flyers on the all-tournament team. Gimello had 13 kills with just two hitting errors in 29 attempts and had 13 digs. Wells-Spicer amassed 53 assists. Sophomore middle blocker Robert Kraft also played well with 14 kills with just one error in 19 attempts for a .684 hitting percentage.
Kraft and Schroeder each had five kills in the fourth set with Kraft posting the match-clinching spike off an assist from Wells-Spicer. That triggered a wild celebration with fans rushing the Kidera court to be part of the experience.
The Golden Flyers benefited from eight service errors by the Pride to take the first set 25-23. Gimello and senior Ellis Walsh each had four kills for the Golden Flyers and Wells-Spicer had 11 of his assists.
In the second set, Springfield evened the score as Alberto Bravo had eight of his match-high 25 kills and setter Mike Becker had 12 of his 50 assists.
In the pivotal third set, Kraft had five kills and Schroeder had four. The score was tied at 22 before Schroeder had kills on two of the last three points and Springfield's Mike Pelletier's attack sailed out of bounds on set point.
In the fourth set, Nazareth inched ahead early and the lead grew to 19-14 following a kill by Kraft. Springfield battled back to within 22-20 on a kill by Bravo, but Nazareth maintained its resilience and closed out the match on kills from Brian Bunch, Schroeder and Kraft.
In addition to Nazareth's three players, Bravo and Cal Palumbo were named to the all-tournament team for Springfield. Pablo Oliveira of Baruch and Connor Wexter of Carthage also were named to all-tournament team.