The Emerson men’s volleyball team took big strides during its 2013 season with a team made up of seven freshmen and four upperclassmen.
Although the Lions ended the season with a losing record (12-16), they reached the target they set for themselves of making the Great Northeast Athletic Conference playoffs, according to head coach Ben Read. The Lions went on to surpass their goal when they defeated Wentworth in a thrilling five set match in the first round of the postseason tournament.
“We were very young and obviously we had some growing pains,” said Read. “As the season progressed we got better. We made playoffs which was our goal and had a program first which was a playoff win”.
A big reason for the program’s success last season was outside hitter Alex Frapech. The freshman from Los Angeles won GNAC Rookie of the Year, led the conference with 333 kills, and was the offensive catalyst for the Lions. However, Frapech is no longer a member of Emerson’s volleyball team. The standout outside hitter transferred to George Mason University following the fall semester and will join their Division 1 program.
“It’s obviously a big loss,” said Read. “A huge loss.”
Frapech isn’t the only key player not returning for the Lions. Nadav Swarttz and Eric Doherty — two of the team’s better players — graduated last spring. Doherty was a two-time captain whose versatility was key for Emerson last season. He was an outside hitter who also played in the back row. Swarttz was also a captain, and was a focal point of the Lions’ offense for the last three seasons. He finished with 149 kills in 2013, third on the team.
According to Read, now that Frapech, Swarttz, and Doherty are gone, other players on the team will have to step up and fill these offensive roles.
“Alex was a large part of our offense last season.” said Read. “We ran our whole offense through him. Now we almost have to become a better team, a stronger team. With the added height and the addition of the new freshmen and transfers we brought in, I think we have that.”
This year’s group of new freshmen and transfers may be the best group Read has brought in during his three-year tenure at Emerson. Read brought in some serious size in the middle with two 6-foot, 6-inch players, transfer Dimitri Gorenc and freshman Devin McIntrye. Gorenc transferred to Emerson from Moorepark College in Southern California. Read also added 6-foot, 4-inch freshman opposite Stanson Afoa.
“I think we can add a lot of spirit and a lot of drive to the team,” said John Morgan, a 6-foot-3 freshman on the team. “Oh yeah, and a lot of height too.”
The group of players returning to the Lions were also a major part of the team last season. Sophomore Jackson Wiley was second on the team last year with 215 kills. Junior captain Connor Burton finished third on the team with 157 kills last year, and led the Lions in hitting percentage. Sophomore Brendan McGonigle returns as the team’s setter after racking up 652 assists to pace the offense last season. And sophomore Jared Gross returns as the libero, after finishing second in the conference a season ago with 281 digs.
This group of players performed well last season, but say they are looking to perform even better this year.
“From where they were at the beginning of last year to the end of last season was a huge improvement, and it has just continued,” said Tom Carroll, 21, a senior journalism major and co-captain of the team. “They’re among the leaders on this team.”
After getting their first taste of playoff success last season, the Lions have their eyes set on even more in 2014.
“Ultimately, our goal would be to finish in the top four and host a playoff game,” said Read.
But it won’t come easily.
The GNAC is known for its men’s volleyball, and having to play the likes of Rivier, Emmanuel (two teams consistently ranked in the top 15 nationally), and Wentworth twice a season makes everything more difficult.
Although Emerson’s other varsity athletic teams switched to the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference this year, the men’s volleyball team will remain in the GNAC, as the NEWMAC does not currently offer men’s volleyball.
The Lions open their season Thursday Night in an 8 p.m. game at Lesley University.
Assistant Sport Editor Connor Burton did not edit this article because he is a member of the men’s volleyball team.