MIT volleyball loses to Springfield
By Michael J. Garrison
The MIT men's volleyball team lost a heartbreaking match to the Springfield College Chiefs last Thursday, winning 15-5 and 15-3 before dropping the last three games 9-15, 7-15, and 10-15.
"This [match] was pretty important," Coach Karyn Altman '78 remarked after the loss. "We took ourselves out of any chance at first place" in the conference. The Engineers need to win two of their remaining three Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association opponents in order to make the playoffs.
Springfield, whom MIT had beaten earlier in non-conference play, improved their record to 3-5. After this match and a weekend tournament, MIT dropped to 11-8.
The first game started poorly for the Engineers, as Roland Rocafort '90 had two hits blocked by Springfield's Brett Fowler and Donald Goller, each resulting in points for the Chiefs.
Another Springfield block made it 0-4 by the time MIT's setter, Co-captain Charles Lee '89, fooled the Chiefs by setting the ball over the net and into a hole in the Springfield coverage.
After regaining the serve, Springfield scored again with an ace, making the it a quick 0-5 deficit for MIT. But the Engineers then came back with 15 unanswered points to win the first game decisively.
MIT's run included putaways by Rocafort and Joe Tang '89, strong blocking, a surprise hit by Lee, and several aces. Altman summed it up: "We played pretty well in the first game, ... they played badly."
One telling blow helped MIT to carry their momentum into the second game. After Springfield recovered the serve with the score 13-5, a free ball delivered to the Engineers set up a particularly vicious kill by Rocafort from the middle of the court. The hit seemed to take all of the fire out of the Springfield players, and MIT won the game two serves later.
Springfield held first service in the second game, but a big block by Allen Downey '89 got the serve back for MIT, and they took a lead which they would never lose. The Chiefs, who were obviously frustrated, watched their quick lead become a 7-1 MIT advantage.
As MIT powered to a 15-3 victory, a shift in offensive strategy appeared to pay off. In the first game Lee had set most of the passes over to the left outside hitter, but Springfield reacted well to the play. In the second game, however, Lee set the ball to the middle much more often, either one-sets to Downey or feeds to Rocafort. He also scored three kills with hits of his own.
It was at this point, however, that MIT "let the momentum go towards Springfield," Altman recalled. MIT "let Springfield start to feel like they could" win.
Springfield's coach, Rich Pickrell, had a different interpretation. "We got consistent," he said.
The third game started out in MIT's direction when the Engineers picked up a point on the opening serve, but the tide quickly turned to Springfield. On the second serve of the game, MIT's senior middle hitter Downey had to be taken off of the court after suffering a shoulder injury. Losing Downey "really shouldn't have bothered us," Altman said, but it certainly seemed that it did.
MIT picked up three quick points on Springfield hitting miscues, but that was about all the good news they were to get. After some sloppy passing on both sides of the net, it was the Chiefs who began to get things going again.
As long as they remained ahead, MIT appeared to be playing decently. However, as Springfield took the lead, MIT seemed to fall apart. The Engineers began to make mental errors, such as serving the ball out of bounds, carrying sets, and allowing serves to fall between receivers.
MIT's offensive attack also stalled as the Engineers, lacking a middle game without Downey, fell victim to strong blocking by the Chiefs' Fowler and Goller. MIT got only a few successful hits from outside hitter Rocafort.
In the end, Springfield won a 15-9 victory which was not nearly as close as the score would indicate, considering that MIT had been up 5-1.
Downey returned for the fourth game, but he did not seem nearly as effective. Altman later noted that she was disappointed in the play of many of her starters after she rested them.
It was Rocafort who once again seemed to be doing his best to hold together MIT's advantage, getting in three or four kills and some very hard serves. Tang also made some strong hits, but it was in a losing effort.
After picking up the first point, MIT fell behind 7-1. Rocafort then served for two points, but a serve into the net gave Springfield the chance they needed. The Chiefs opened up the lead to 11-3 over a tired-looking MIT team.
The Engineers struggled back as Tang picked up, in succession, a kill, a dink over the Chiefs' blockers, and a beautiful block on a Springfield overpass.
MIT's four point run was not, however, enough to close the gap, and Springfield came back behind the power hitting of Fowler and junior Mark Straubel. The Chiefs evened up the match with a 15-7 win.
The fifth game provided the most excitement of the evening. Unfortunately for the Engineers, a strong effort did not result in a MIT win.
The game opened with some great displays from both sides. Rocafort scored a quick side out, but Springfield's James Groeneveld picked one up right behind him, negating MIT's chance to score.
The next serve ended in the first of several questionable calls by the officials. After Downey picked up what appeared to be a side out for MIT, Fowler, the Chiefs' captain, protested to the official that one of his players had fallen down, arguing that the play should have been stopped. The officials agreed, calling for the teams to repeat the serve. However, Altman later claimed that call had to be made while the play was underway for it to be valid.
"There were some bad calls in the fifth game that all went against us," Altman pointed out. "But there shouldn't have been a fifth game," she added.
The next volley was easily the best of the night, as both teams dug out strong hits and set up equally strong returns. Eventually, however, the Chiefs' Peter Harvey hit the ball into the net, giving MIT the serve.
The teams battled back and forth, trading side outs, neither gaining more than a one point advantage over the other. Eventually the score evened up at 6-6. But then Springfield took over.
The Chiefs went on a eight point tear, as the MIT blockers kept blocking the Chiefs' hits out of bounds. This was very tough luck for MIT, and it happened four times. One in particular came after MIT freshman Tom Klemas had made a spectacular save.
The Chiefs also scored an ace, as well as one put away shot which the dispirited MIT team failed to even attempt to block. Twice carries were called against Lee on moves he had been using for the entire match.
But MIT regrouped, and managed to pick up four straight points. Two came off blocks by Downey and Tang, and one came from a very nice save by Co-captain Edwin Marin '89, but it was for naught. With MIT facing match point, Rocafort, who had done so much for MIT in all five games, hit a hard crossing shot which just wide of the line. The Chiefs picked up the game, and the match, with a score of 15-10.
When asked how he got his team up from losses of 5-15 and 3-15, Pickrell denied responsibility. "They did it themselves," he said of his players "I had nothing to do with it."
"Both teams made mistakes," he added, "and the team that stopped making mistakes won the game." In the first two games that was team was MIT, he said, and afterwards it was the Chiefs.
Furthermore, "the serving got tougher," Pickrell said. Altman agreed; "They started serving really hard ... Once you let them get ahead, they can start to take chances" like serving hard, she elaborated.
MIT will face Roger Williams College at 7 pm tonight in DuPont. The Seahawks beat MIT earlier this year at Roger Williams, and Altman expects they will win the EIVA.
MIT wins two of five in
MIT faced many of their EIVA opponents in round-robin tournament action Saturday, defeating two and losing to three of the teams. Roger Williams, who hosted the tournament, won overall.
The Engineers beat Vassar (15-7, 15-5) and Harvard (15-12, 5-15, 15-10). MIT will face Harvard in league competition at home on March 16.
They lost to Dartmouth (10-15, 13-15), Springfield (16-14, 5-15, 4-15), and Roger Williams (10-15, 16-14, 14-16). Besides the match versus Roger Williams tonight, the Engineers must play Springfield at Springfield on April 4.
Altman explained that "minor injuries contributed to us being not as sharp [as we could have been]." The Engineers' had difficulty hitting, she added, although serve receive, which has been giving the team trouble lately, was very good.
MIT was missing starters Tang and Lee.