The 2013 Men’s Volleyball season has just begun, but a sense of optimistic promise has already surfaced in the Emerson College Lions.
Off to a 2-1 start and bolstered by a deep recruiting class, the team is set to begin GNAC conference matches January 29th against the team that eliminated them in the first round of the playoffs last season, Johnson and Wales.
“I’m pretty sure that we’re going to end up being a lot better than last year,” said sophomore tri-captain Connor Burton. “Our goal is to finish at least third in our conference.”
Burton, a journalism major and Middle Blocker, said the team has had some growing pains, but nothing out of the ordinary. After cruising to wins over Lesley and Polytechnic in their first two matches, the Lions stumbled to a straight sets loss to Southern Vermont last Saturday.
The Lions finished 10-15 overall and finished sixth place with a 5-9 record in GNAC play last season. The team has reloaded around six freshmen players who are making an instant impact and have become the backbone of the team.
“They’re going to be huge,” said Head Coach Ben Read. “We’ve got some really quality freshmen, two great Setters, three Outside Hitters, and a Libero who’s just lights out on defense, so I’m really looking forward to seeing what they can do once we get into GNAC play.”
One of the biggest challenges facing the Lions this season is replacing Stephen Selnick, who provided the team with timely passes as a Setter on the court and valuable leadership off of it last year as a senior captain.
“The two Setters we had that came in, they’ve been really good so far and they’ll continue to be good and improve,” said senior tri-captain Nadav Swarttz. Swarttz, a marketing communications major and Outside Hitter, said the team has had to re-learn where to go with the ball in certain situations as well as working on their timing with the new Setters.
“They’re very comparable to what Steve has,” added Read. “I think the biggest thing is going to be the loss of leadership that he brought to us last year.”
This season the Lions are mixing continuity with a fresh voice from their tri-captains. Along with Swarttz and Burton, the team voted senior Eric Doherty a captain. Doherty was a captain last year as a junior, and Burton was a surprising but deserving choice despite his age.
“I was very surprised to hear that they had voted for me, I was really honored to be chosen,” said Burton.
While Doherty was studying in Emerson’s Los Angeles program this fall, Burton validated his captaincy by stepping up to lead captain’s practices, according to Swarttz. Burton downplayed the praise and shifted it to his seniors.
“Eric was a captain last year, and he knows what it’s like to be a captain, he’s a good leader for this team,” said Burton. “Nadav’s taken on his leadership role very well, so far he’s been a very good captain.”
Read also praised his two seniors for the job they’ve done leading such a young squad.
“Eric’s going to step up, play a great defensive role, passing for us, doing it outside for us, and
Nadav’s our go-to, being a lefty and being an explosive athlete as he is, he’s really going to help us a lot on the right side of the court,” said Read.
Swarttz said he doesn’t feel the pressure of being a go-to player because of how much more balanced the Lions’ attack is this year. He believes he’s better served helping the freshmen learn and being in the right spot rather than focusing on stats.
While Coach Read downplayed long-term expectations for the team in this season, Burton wasn’t shy about his confidence in the team.
“We did not play anywhere close to our potential,” said Burton on the Southern Vermont loss. “We’re definitely capable of more. With the talent that we’ve had come in this year, we’re already a better team, I know that right now.”