The Stevenson’s men’s volleyball team has started off the spring season strong. The team surged out to an 8-3 start in out-of-conference play, with several upcoming games against nationally ranked opponents.
Two of the three Mustang losses have come at the hands of two highly ranked opponents. They fell short to SUNY New Paltz (3-1) on Jan. 18 who is currently ranked #1 in the country and also to Juniata College (3-2) on Jan. 25 who is #10.
Head coach Aldis Berzins said that coming into the season, he knew the Mustangs would be a good team, but there would be certain positions where younger players would have to step up, especially after last year’s senior-heavy team.
However, senior libero Derek Tangorra believes that this team will gel better this season than in previous years. He added that he fully expects this team to win the conference championship again. Last year’s loss in the conference finals left a sour taste in their mouths, and Tangorra and the returners have their sights set on making a run at Nationals.
After their first two losses, Berzins mentioned several positives as well as areas that need work. Close losses to nationally ranked teams sent a message to the team that they could compete with anybody. While Berzins commended the team on their resiliency, he believed the team could do a better job starting matches.
Tangorra added that he, too, believed the team would often start too slowly, adding that it often took the team half of the first set or even the whole first set until they felt comfortable. This can hinder their ability to get into a rhythm and can result in losing the first set.
Berzins said he was was proud of how the younger players have stepped up early in the season. This year the Mustangs had to replace their setter and sophomore Peyton Ranck stepped into that position. One of the biggest changes came at outside hitter where sophomore Tanner Stauffer took over for Landon Shorts, the Off the Block/Molten Division III National Outside Attacker of the Year, who graduated.
Berzins added that Shorts is irreplaceable and joked that he knows coaches are glad Shorts is no longer playing for Stevenson. While commending Shorts, the coach noted how well Stauffer has played, especially being able to develop a short memory and bounce back after making a mistake.
With out-of-conference play coming to an end, the team will soon shift its focus to conference play. Berzins said they focus on each game one at a time, especially with their conference being one of the toughest in the country.