MARCY, N.Y. – The SUNYIT Men's Volleyball Team (7-3, 1-1 NEAC) hosted the first of several NEAC Crossovers to be played throughout the season at various institutions within the conference, and came away with a split on Saturday to open conference play at 1-1.
In the early match, the Wildcats dispatched with a feisty Wells College team in straight sets, 3-0. The victory proved to be a quality win for SUNYIT, as later in the afternoon the Express would go on to take out defending NEAC Champion Keuka College in a thrilling five-setter.
Last week's NEAC Men's Volleyball Co-Player of the Week Matthew Cardot (Rush-Henrietta, N.Y. / Sperry) led the way with 15 kills on 27 attempts, good for a .370 hitting percentage. The hard-hitting right-hander also notched a team-high 5 aces.
Following Cardot was sophomore Sean Conte (Hilton, N.Y. / Hilton), whose 7 kills came on just 18 attempts.
Head Coach Jake Bluhm was complimentary of the big lefty:
"He played well in a couple of key points when we were kind of reeling and needed someone to step up and get us a little separation," said Bluhm, who also praised Cardot along with some of the other young hitters the team brought in this year:
"There's good energy," said Bluhm regarding the youth on the team, "some of the mistakes they make are going to happen and they need to remember that there's going to be a learning process; at the same time we're excited because they all have very high ceilings as players."
Coach Bluhm – who made those remarks after the team's first match – proved to be unfortunately clairvoyant regarding the double-edged sword that is a young team, as the Wildcats fell in gut-wrenching fashion during their evening match with Lancaster Bible College, 3-2.
After winning the first set 25-23, the Wildcats dropped the next two sets 25-23 and 25-18. With the chips down, however, SUNYIT battled back in a tremendous fourth set. The Wildcats held a 21-17 lead in the set, but the Chargers rallied to pull within two, 22-20. At that point Evan Smith (Saugerties, N.Y. / Saugerties) got into the mix for the Wildcats. The six-foot outside-hitter pounded a good solid kill off a great set, driving the ball into two Chargers who could do nothing but block the ball out of bounds. After a well-placed ball by the Chargers again brought the visitors to within two, Smith answered again with an almost identical kill, putting the Wildcats on the brink of victory at 24-21. SUNYIT would hang on in the set, finally winning it 25-23 on a net violation by Lancaster.
With the match all square at 2-2, SUNYIT appeared to have all the momentum going into the fifth set. The home team played like it, too, getting out ahead early on and staying there all the way to a 14-10 lead. From there, however, it seemed as if nothing could go right for the Wildcats, who watched as the Chargers rattled off a 6-0 run to steal the set 16-14 and take the match, 3-2.
After the match, an understandably disappointed Coach Bluhm turned his attention to the future, stating briefly, "Hopefully we learn from this." At 7-3, the Wildcats are still off to the program's best start in recent history, and are only one match back in the NEAC standings with the bulk of their conference schedule yet to play.
In the second match, Cardot again led the Wildcats in kills with 18, but it was sophomore and last year's NEAC Rookie of the Year Alan Davids (Hilton, N.Y. / Hilton) who had probably the best match for the home team. Davids needed just 15 attempts to net his 8 kills on the night – a hitting percentage of .400 – and showcasing the type of efficiency that earned him the league's top honor for freshmen last season.
The Wildcats will take to the road next for a tournament at Bard College. The first match will be against the host institution, who SUNYIT defeated 3-0 in the team's first match of the year, on Friday at 8 pm.