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Gameday Central: Men's Volleyball Set To Compete In NCAA Division III Championship Weekend

Gameday Central: Men's Volleyball Set To Compete In NCAA Division III Championship Weekend

Springfield, Mass. – April 24, 2018 – The Springfield men's volleyball team will head out to Wisconsin for the 2018 NCAA Division III National Championship as the overall No. 1 seed and will face Vassar in the national semifinals on Friday on the campus of Carthage College.

Follow the Action
Friday, April 27 - 4 pm (CST)
NCAA Division III Championship Semifinals
No. 1 Springfield vs. Vassar
Live Stats & Live Video 

Let's Get Social
Please join us for an alumni and parents social during the 2018 NCAA Division III Men's Volleyball Championship on Friday, April 27 at 6 pm CST.
Enjoy complimentary appetizers and catch-up with former teammates, Springfield College alumni, current parents, and current Springfield College administrators and staff members on the campus of Carthage College. The exact building and room number to be announced in registration confirmation.

Last Time Out
The Springfield College men's volleyball team cruised past Lancaster Bible in straight sets in the NCAA Division III Championship Quarterfinals on April 21 in Blake Arena.  The Pride won by the scores of 25-11, 25-18, 25-12.  Mike Neary (Ventura, Calif.) totaled 25 of the Pride's 34 assists as he directed an offense that hit at a .466 clip in the contest.  Playing for the final time in Blake Arena, graduate student Sean Zuvich (San Pedro, Calif.) was outstanding, producing 11 kills on a .625 hitting percentage to go along with nine digs.  Sergio Figueroa Velez (San Juan, Puerto Rico) registered seven kills, five aces, four digs, and three blocks, and Eli Irizarry Pares(San Juan, Puerto Rico) added seven digs as part of a Springfield defense that limited the Chargers to a .027 hitting percentage.

Championship History
The Pride has won 10 Division III titles, hoisting the Molten Invitational National Championship trophy six times 1997, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2008, 2010, before capturing four NCAA Division III Championships.  The Pride swept Carthage in Blake Arena for the inaugural NCAA Division III title in 2012 before sweeping host Nazareth in 2013 and host Juniata in 2014 for its third-straight crown. Most recently Springfield won the 2017 NCAA Division III title which in Blake Arena in four sets against SUNY New Paltz.  

No Place Like Home
The friendly confines of Blake Arena and Dana Gymansium have been especially benefitial to the Springfield College men's volleyball team as of late, as the Pride went undefeated at home the past three seasons, as the Pride have gone 47-1.  This year, the Pride rattled off a 17-0 record at home and pushed its home winning streak to 35 matches, with its last setback on Alden Street coming to New Paltz on April 2, 2016. 

Division III Supremacy
Since the NCAA began its sponsorship of the Division III Men's Volleyball National Championship in 2012, Charlie Sullivan and company have produced a 185-11 record against Division III opponents.  Since 2008, the Pride has played in nine of 10 national championship games, including being victorious in six of them. Dating back to the implementation of the NCAA Division III Men's Volleyball National Championship in 2012, the Pride won three titles in a row, added a fourth in 2017, and finished as the national runner-up twice.  From 2003 to 2009, Juniata College had a similar run, making six out of seven national championship matches.

Back in the Badger State
The last time that the Springfield College men's volleyball competed in the state of Wisconsin came in 2010 when the Pride was one of four teams vying for the Molten Division III Invitational National Championship. Facing host Carthage in the national semifinals, Cal Palumbo pounded out 13 kills, hitting .524, to go along with seven blocks, while AVCA National Player of the Year AJ Nally finished the match with a team-best 14 kills to go along with nine digs and four blocks to lead the Pride to a 30-22, 30-22, 30-28 win.  The following night, behind a career-performance from tournament MVP Alberto Bravo, Springfield claimed their sixth national championship after defeating UC-Santa Cruz in four games in the 2010 Molten Division III Men's Invitational Volleyball Championship. After dropping the first set, 30-23, Springfield won the final three sets 32-30, 30-26, 30-22.  Bravo was dominant from the opening whistle as he finished the match with a career-best 24 kills to go along with 11 digs and four blocks.

Top of the Polls
The Springfield College men's volleyball team set a new record for most consecutive weeks ranked No. 1 in the American Volleyball Coaches Assocation (AVCA) Division III National Poll.  To date, Springfield has been No.1 for the last 29-consecutive polls, besting the previous mark of 23 that was once held by Juniata from 2004-2006.  The AVCA poll started in 1996.

Sweeping Up
Springfield has won 81of the 85 sets against Division III opponents this season.  In fact, earlier this season, Springfield set a NCAA men's volleyball record for most consecutive sets won as it reeled off 43 before dropping a set at New Paltz on March 31.  The Pride bested the previous mark of 32 that Hawaii set in 2017.  

West Coast Openers
2018 marked the ninth-straight season that Springfield opened up its season on the West Coast. The Pride started the year with a four-set loss to Concordia Irvine, before rallying for a 3-0 victory over Hope International to complete the trip. 

Island Connection
This season, the Springfield College men's volleyball team has seven natives of Puerto Rico on the team. In addition to Joseth Irizarry FelicianoSergio Figueroa VelezRicardo Padilla Ayala, and Eli Irizarry Pares, and Johjan Mussa Robles, the Pride added Eli Gabriel Irizarry Pares and Rafa Robert to the mix. The Pride's seven Puerto Ricans is the most among any team in that plays men's volleyball in the NCAA. This season Springfield College hosted a Puerto Rico Relief Day in an effort to help those who are still struggling to recover from the Hurricanes this past summer. The game broadcast on this day was announced in Spanish, and the Pride defeated MSOE 3-0. 

California Kids
The Springfield College men's volleyball team has established strong ties to the state of California, which are reflected in its roster. The Pride has a total of four Golden Staters in the starting lineup, Mike Neary, Kyle JasutaBilly De La Espriella and Sean Zuvich

Sullivan Earns Bronze
Springfield College head men's volleyball coach Charlie Sullivan and the United States Men's Volleyball team rallied from a two-set deficit to defeat Russia to claim the Bronze Medal at the 2016 Olympic Summer Games. Sullivan was a member of the coaching staff and served as a scout coach throughout the competition.

The U.S. came back from an 0-2 deficit to beat Russia, 23-25, 21-25, 25-19, 25-19, 15-13 at Maracanazinho arena. Despite losses to Canada and Italy, the United States picked up critical wins against eventual gold-medalists Brazil, France, and Mexico in pool play, and later bested Poland in the quarterfinals to reach the medal rounds.  After a five-set loss to the Italians, Team USA put together a remarkable comeback against Russia to claim the fifth men's volleyball medal for the U.S. Men in the Olympic Games. This came after Sullivan helped lead the 2015 U.S. Men's National Team to the FIVB World Cup Title. It was the first time the U.S. Men have won the World Cup since 1985 and the first time ever that they have qualified for the Olympics at the World Cup.

Regulars at the NCAA's
Since the inception of the NCAA Division III Men's Volleyball Championship in 2012, only two schools have appeared in each of the first seven championships. Springfield, which was the top seed in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017, and now 2018 and the No. 2 seed in 2015, and 2016, has been joined by Kean as the only other seven-time participant.

An Efficient Offense
For the seventh consecutive season, Springfield is the number one ranked offense in Division III men's volleyball in overall team hitting percentage. In 2018, Springfield is hitting at a .375 clip, which is .035 better than Endicott's hitting percentage of .340 which is second-best nationally.   Last season, the Pride posted a .414 hitting percentage, which was the highest hitting percentage of any program, men or women, at the NCAA Division I, II, or III level, and was was over .100 points above the next team.  Springfield recorded a .382 clip in 2016, a .329 percentage in 2015, hit .331 as a team in 2014, notched a .381 clip in 2013, and posted a team hitting percentage of .387 in 2012.

A Balanced Roster
Springfield has only had five players this year appear in at least 67% of its matches as head coach Charlie Sullivan has used his depth throughout the season to play a variety of lineups.  Of the 101 sets, that Springfield has played, Joseth Irizarry Feliciano has played the most with 96, followed by Kyle Jasuta (93), Tucker Evans (86), Eli Irizarry Pares (86), and Sergio Figueroa Velez (85).  Additionally, the Pride have had seven players appear in at least 50 sets this year.

A Family Affair
This season, there are three siblings that are a part of the Springfield College men's volleyball program and have been instrumental in the Pride's success this season. 
Eli Irizarry Pares has been the Pride's libero throughout the season and has been sensational.  In his junior season, he has appeared in 27 matches and 86 sets, totaling a team-best 198 digs and a serve reception percentage of .954 to go along with 58 assists.
Eli Gabriel Irizarry Pares has had a very strong first season with the Pride, making an impact as one of Springfield's two setters.  The freshman has played in 22 matches and 56 sets and ranks second on the team with 436 assists to go along with 87 digs, 19 blocks, and 15 aces.  An especially offensive-minded setter, Gabriel Irizarry Pares has totaled 49 kills at a .597 clip this year.
Alex Irizarry is in her first season as a graduate assistant coach with the Springfield College men's volleyball program during the 2017-18 academic year while working to earn her Master's degree in Psychology.  Irizarry came to Springfield College from Norfolk State, where she was a four-year standout for the Spartans and finished her career 11th all-time at NSU in career digs (603) and 12th in matches played (99) before graduating in 2017 with a Bachelor's degree in Health Service Management.

All-American Status
The Springfield College men's volleyball team had three student-athletes earn American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Men's Division III All-America recognition.  Sergio Figueroa Velez (San Juan, Puerto Rico) was chosen to the first team, while Kyle Jasuta (Manhattan Beach, Calif.) and Joseth Irizarry Feliciano (Adjuntas, Puerto Rico) received second-team honors.  As a program, Springfield College has had 26 student-athletes garner AVCA All-America recognition a total of 50 times, including 32 first-team selections. No other Division III program in the country has received more AVCA All-American selections than the Pride's 50 honorees. 

In his second season at Springfield, Figueroa Velez has put together a dynamic season in helping the Pride have put together a 29-2 record.   The Movement and Sport Studies major leads the team in kills (244) and aces (61), while ranking second on the squad in digs (154) and blocks (39).  Becoming the 19th student-athlete in program history to take home first-team honors, Figueroa Velez has been instrumental in Springfield being the top-ranked Division III program for the past 29 AVCA Division III National Polls.

Jasuta earned the national honor for the second-straight year after an impressive junior season where he registered a .469 hitting percentage with 153 kills, the second-most on the team.  The Accounting and Finance major has totaled 66 blocks, the second-most on the team, to go along with 28 aces as he has helped power an offense that leads the country in team hitting percentage (.375).

In his final season at Springfield, Irizarry Feliciano earned the national honor for the first time in his career. The Sport Management major owns a .495 hitting percentage on 122 kills, while appearing in a team-best 96 sets.  Keying a defense that is allowing its opponents a .145 hitting percentage, Irizarry Feliciano leads the team with 79 total blocks and is the ninth middle in program history to be tabbed AVCA All-America. 

Against The 2018 Final Four Field

Vassar College
All-Time Record: 48-2
Last Meeting: February 21, 2018

The Pride held on for a straight-set victory over visiting Vassar College in Dana Gymnasium. Springfield won by the scores of 27-25, 25-16, 25-19. The difference in the match this evening was the Pride's defense as it totaled 44 digs, compared to 22 by the Brewers, as both Eli Irizarry Pares(San Juan, Puerto Rico) and Sergio Figueroa Velez (San Juan, Puerto Rico) each produced 11 digs for the hosts.  Billy De La Espriella(Northridge, Calif.) led the offense with nine kills at a .500 clip, Tucker Evans (Midlothian, Va.) and Kyle Jasuta (Manhattan Beach, Calif.) each had three aces, and Eli Gabriel Irizarry Pares (Bayamon, Puerto Rico) totaled 29 assists and seven digs.

Stevens 
All-Time Record: 6-1
Last Meeting: April 29, 2017

The Springfield College men's volleyball team advanced to the 2017 NCAA Division III Championship after a three-game sweep of the Stevens Institute of Technology in the semifinals at Blake Arena. Set scores were 25-21, 25-14, 28-26. Luis Garcia Rubio (Bayamon, Puerto Rico) led Springfield to a .429 hitting percentage as he handed out 37 assists to go along with five digs and two blocks.  Luis Vega (Corozal, Puerto Rico) was dominant, totaling 20 kills at a .571 clip, Sean Zuvich (San Pedro, Calif.) added nine kills, and Tucker Evans (Midlothian, Va.) ripped five of the Pride's 11 service aces. The Pride went on to win the National Championship, defeating New Paltz 3-1.

Dominican
All-Time Record: 1-0
Last Meeting: March 7, 2015

In the first ever meeting between the two schools, the Springfield College men's volleyball team cruised past Dominican in straight sets by the scores of 25-17, 25-17, 25-23.  Greg Woods (Middletown, Conn.) registered a match-high 13 kills at a .385 clip to go along with five digs, four blocks, and three aces.  Keaton Pieper (Dallas, Texas) was credited with 31 assists in leading Springfield to a .343 hitting percentage and both Ricardo Padilla Ayala (San Juan, Puerto Rico) and Angel Perez (Naranjito, Puerto Rico) posted six kills apiece.