When the Emerson College men’s volleyball team fell to Mount Ida College in five sets last March, it saw its chances at making the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) playoffs crash down.
Now, over half a year later, the Lions are still using the narrow defeat as motivation for the new season.
“We lost a game we should have won at the end against Mount Ida,” said senior Frank O’Sullivan. A few players on the team groaned at hearing him mention the loss after a scrimmage against Wentworth Institute of Technology at Emerson on Friday.
Emerson has already started practicing with renewed fervor, according to junior Nadav Swarttz.
“The practices have absolutely picked up in intensity,” said the marketing communication major.
These training sessions are under the guidance of Ben Read, the team’s new head coach. Read, who is coming off a GNAC Championship appearance with a more experienced women’s team, said he feels the team could not only make the GNAC tournament, but earn a first-round home game.
“I don’t want us to just make playoffs, I want us to go ahead and host the first round of playoffs,” said Read. “To host we have to be a third or fourth seed, and I think if we could finish at 7-7 or 8-6 in the conference that will put us in a good place for it.”
Read is only the second coach in the team’s history, replacing Craig Letourneau, who left for a new coaching position at Wheaton College after last season.
With Read, the Lions have also seen five new arrivals in Connor Burton, Nick Bishop, Nate Chivers, Bill Blatchley, and Ryan Langlois.
Coach Read said he hopes Burton will have a big impact for the team both on and off the court.
“[Burton] is going to help us out a lot both offensively and defensively,” Read said. “Although he is a freshman, I think we also need him to step up and be a bit of a leader, too.”
Read added that Chivers and Bishop will bring depth to the team — Bishop through defensive skills and Chivers with explosiveness.
While the 6-foot-3-inch Burton will look to use his height to stymie opponents’ attacks at the net as a middle blocker, Swarttz will use his vertical leaping ability to strike from the right side.
“Nadav is a very explosive athlete and fun to watch,” Read said. “He just jumps out of the gym.”
Read said one of the keys to the season will be improving the fundamentals for the team to succeed.
“Passing has to be our number one goal,” said Read. “Communication is going to be huge, and so is getting everyone in the same system both offensively and defensively.”
Senior co-captain Steve Selnick agreed that passing must be the Lions’ main focus. Last year, Selnick was named to the GNAC All-Conference third team as a setter.
“Everything starts with passing,” said Selnick. “You can make the game as complicated as you want but if you can’t do the basic fundamental passing, then you are not going to be able to do a thing on the court.”
On the defensive side of things, Selnick said it will be important to find a replacement for libero Evan Ong. Ong, who led the Lions in digs last season, graduated last year.
“We just have to reload and re-anchor that defense and rally around a new player,” said Selnick.
Chris Davis, a sophomore visual and media arts major, will be tasked with filling much of the void left by Ong, but Doherty said it’s going to take a team effort.
“We are a lot deeper this year on the defensive end than we were last year,” said Doherty. “We feel really good about who we have this year.”
If the Lions are to learn from their loss against Mount Ida, however, it will all come down to mental toughness; Doherty said the team must remain composed in tough circumstances.
“We have to keep a level head when things aren’t going our way and being able to bounce back and just erase the last play from our memory and move on to the next play,” said Doherty. “Making the GNAC playoffs and then making some noise from there is our main goal.”