Courtesy of Dominican University
KENOSHA, Wis. -- The Dominican University men's volleyball team overcame a rough first set and upset the second-ranked Carthage College Red Men (14-25, 25-20, 25-20, 25-23) to move on to the semifinal round of the 2018 NCAA Division III Men's Volleyball Championship. The Stars, ranked seventh in this week's AVCA Men's Division III Top 15 Poll, improve to 26-7 on the season and will meet the #3 Stevens Ducks in the national semifinal round on Friday, April 27, at Tarble Arena in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
"Congrats to a stellar Carthage team," said Dan Pawlikowski, the Stars' first-year head coach. "That program has been the gold standard for Division III men's volleyball in the Midwest and had another amazing season. Coach Marx and his team was well-prepared and battled to the last point. I could not be more proud of our team for taking that first set loss and knuckling down to earn the victory. It was again a total team effort on our part. While some individual shine from night to night, we are at our best when we can lean on any player at any point in a match. Every man on the roster gave all we had and it took all we had to get this win."
Playing against one of the top teams in the country on their home court, the Stars hit -.111 in the first set, committing ten attack errors, while the host Red Men converted at a .500 clip, knocking down ten first-set kills while committing just one error. Between sets, the Stars gathered in a corner, talking about how to right the ship.
"We looked each other in the eyes and needed to breathe and relax," commented Luke Spicer, the Stars' All-American right side. "The moment had overwhelmed us a little bit. It wasn't volleyball strategy…it was more mental for us and going point by point."
"We were caring too much about the result during the first set," added Ethan Klosak. "Coaching wanted us to have fun and we weren't doing that in the first set. We went out and played after that and had more fun. You saw a lot of smiles on our faces throughout the rest of the night."
The high-powered, balanced Dominican offense hit its stride in the second set, opening a 10-7 lead and then keeping the Red Men at bay before using a late four-point spurt to pull away. The Stars hit .481 in the second frame and did not allow Carthage to string together any runs, going 16-for-20 on sideout attempts. Klosak, Spicer and Jake Sidner collected four kills apiece to even the match at one set apiece.
The third set saw both sides work to not let the ball find the court, combining for 27 digs. Dominican was one better than Carthage, collecting 14 digs to help limit the Red Men to a .148 attack percentage in the set.
The Stars never trailed in the third stanza, snapping a 19-19 run with a 6-1 run to finish out the set. Klosak sparked the run with back-to-back kills before a pair of aces by Spicer helped open a 23-19 kill. After setter Jack McGuire added a kill, Carthage finally earned a sideout to stave off set point for a moment before Klosak knocked down his fourth kill of the set to give the Stars a 2-1 advantage in the match.
Carthage rallied early in the fourth set, opening a 15-11 lead before Dominican roared back. The Stars scored four straight, two kills apiece by Spicer and Klosak to even the match at 15-15. The sides traded sideouts up to 18-18 before a Carthage service error and Dominican block by McGuire and Nick Timreck allowed Dominican to open a 20-18 lead. After a Carthage sideout, Dominican scored two more on another Red Men service error before a kill by Spicer as the Stars' lead grew to 22-19. Carthage pulled back within 23-22 before a kill by Adam Eboli snapped the Red Men run and it was the 18th kill of the night for Spicer that put the match to rest.
McGuire ran the Stars to a .299 attack percentage, dishing out 52 assists on Dominican's 55 total kills. Spicer logged a match-high 18 kills followed by Klosak's 15 while Sidner finished with ten. Spicer added four service aces and a block assist for a total of 22.5 points in the winning effort.
Carthage was paced by Kelvin Rivera's 15 kills on 29 swings as the Red Men hit .305 in the loss. Carthage's season comes to a close with a record of 24-2.
For Dominican, the season continues into the NCAA Division III National Tournament semifinals for the first time in program history. The Stars will return to Kenosha, Wisconsin, next Thursday, kicking off the Championship events at a Special Olympics bowling event in the morning before taking part in the Championship banquet Thursday evening. After a Friday morning workout at the Tarble Arena, Dominican takes to the floor against Stevens at 6:30 p.m. Friday evening. The winner will play for the NCAA Division III National Title next Saturday at 6:00 p.m., meeting the winner of the Springfield College and Vassar semifinal match.