Fairfield, CT- On April 6th, the Men’s Club Volleyball team travelled to New Hampshire to compete in the regional championships. Going into the tournament at 5-3, the team only travelled 7 players to the tournament in hopes of capturing their first ever regional title.
The tournament started out on Saturday with Round Robin play and the Pios took on Marist, the best team in the league by record. This was the first time these two teams faced off this year and it was a hard-fought battle to start. Despite good efforts from Eric Peper and Dan Ward, the Pioneers lost the first set 25-21, which damaged their confidence leading to a 25-15 defeat in set 2. Despite the loss, Sacred Heart played well throughout the match and still had confidence moving forward.
Next up, they had the University of Maine. This is a team they had seen before, but lost to in a tough match in Rhode Island. Saturday was no different. Both teams went back and forth for both sets. Great passing from Libero Ryan Sanudo and great hitting, once again, by Eric Peper kept the Pioneers in this one until the death. Unfortunately, though, they dropped both sets 25-22, 25-22 and lost their second match of the day. This left them at 0-2 and needing a win to stay alive until Sunday.
Luckily for them, they were able to pick it up in game three as they took on another familiar foe in Brandeis. This is a team that the Pios had beaten before and, with a spot in the knockout rounds on their minds, they knew they needed to replicate that result. That is what lead to an ultimately dominating all-around team performance by the Pioneers and a 2-0 victory in the match. There wasn’t one player that did anything better than the other, but once again, outside hitter Eric Peper showed out. This win brought the Pios to 1-2 on the day.
Unfortunately, that win was not enough to secure a spot in the knockout rounds as three teams, including Sacred Heart, had a chance to finish 1-3 going into the day’s final atch between SHU and CCRI. If the Pios won, they would be the 3-seedout of their group. If they lost, they would fall to 1-3 and a three-way tie that could have possibly seen them eliminated after Day 1. The Pioneers wanted none of that, though, as they came out firing once again, cruising to a 2-0 match victory against CCRI, which catapulted the Pios to the 3-seed coming out of their group and knocked CCRI out of the tournament. The Pioneers would finish the day 2-2 and find themselves in a knockout round matchup with UCONN, a team they had already beat this season.
After a good night’s sleep, SHU had the early game against UCONN with a shot to advance to their first ever Regional semifinal. The game was tense from the start with SHU jumping out to a 10-4 lead early in Set 1. Things would even out towards the middle of the match, though, as UCONN found their way back to eventually take the lead and not look back. They would win set 1, 25-21, giving them a good hold on the match. Sacred Heart did not give up, though. The Pioneers came out hot once again and didn’t hold back. They had a chance to win the second set with the game at 25-24 in their favor, but UCONN found the corner with a free ball, tying things up again. Despite another terrific effort from setter Dan Ward, the Pioneers fell 31-29, losing the match 2-0. It was one of the best matches the Pioneers had played all year and nothing to hang their head’s about. The team gave it their all and came up just short, once again.
With the loss, the Pioneers were relegated to the consolation bracket where they took on the University of New Haven, who they beat in three sets, 2-1, which put them in the consolation bracket final. There they beat Brandeis once again to claim the consolation bracket title.
There was an amazing effort given by each player, but one stood out above the rest as Eric Peper claimed the only All-Tournament team recognition from the Pioneers after he single-handedly dominated the court. In the end, the Pioneers finished the season 9-6 after a crazy season that saw tournaments cancelled and small teams for tournaments. With all those challenges, the Pioneers stuck through and managed to fight to the very end, making the school very proud.
As they look forward to next season, the Pioneers will only lose two players, setter Dan Ward and Libero Ryan Sanudo, who are both graduating this year. With a solid returning group and the momentum from this year, the Pioneers should have no problem being one of the best teams in the league once again as they continue to look for their first regional championship.