GNAC volleyball champion Raiders set for NCAA tournament

Photo courtesy of Rivier University Head coach Craig Kolek, left, and the rest of the Rivier University men's volleyball team celebrate their GNAC championship on Saturday night. The Raiders will find out Monday who and where they play in the first round of the NCAA tournament this Friday.

NASHUA – Rivier University will have a team playing in an NCAA tournament this year after all.

Is it a surprise it’s the Raider men’s volleyball team? Given its history, perhaps not really. But the program had gone three springs without a Great Northeast Conference championship until Saturday night’s 3-0 triumph over two-time defending champion Wentworth Institute of Technology at the Muldoon Center before a standing room only crowd. It was the Raiders’ ninth men’s volleyball conference title overall.

“I told (his team) in the locker room after that this was one of the most fulfilling titles I’ve been privileged to be a part of,” Raiders coach Craig Kolek said. “Coming into the season we thought we might still be a year away. After we started 1-3, a tough start, we could have rolled over, but we didn’t. I look back on that now as something we needed to go through.”

They survived and then they thrived. The Raiders are 26-6, ranked sixth nationally in Divisin III at last look, and including the post season, are 16-0. They’ll find out on Monday who they’ll end up facing in the upcoming NCAA Division III tournament, with the first round set for Friday.

Saturday night’s title win wasn’t easy, despite being in straight sets, as the scores were 25-20, 25-23, 27-25. Garrett Bucklin was named tourney MVP after a 39-assist, four-block night. Grant Andler had 15 kills and was also named to the All-Tourney team.

Also, David Smith had nine kills with two aces, while DaShaun Graham had eight kills and five blocks. Khaynen Yocca had seven kills, and All-Tourney player Cam Roth added five kills. Wentworth was led by All-Tourney player Ollie Oshman, who hit .652 with 16 kills against one error in 23 attempts, plus two blocks.

Yocca’s kill just inside the left sideline provided the clinching point.

“It’s always a great feeling,” Kolek said. “They (Wentworth) are two-time defending champions for a reason so to be able to get past them was a real accomplishment for us.”

The Raiders will now wait and see who they draw in the 12-team tournament won by Springfield (Mass.) College last year. The Final Four, which the Raiders made once in their history, will be April 27-28 in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

“Whoever we play in the opening round, we still need to prepare like we always do,” Kolek said. “It’s still practice (this) week and the (NCAA) tournament is another opportunith to get better, whether we play one match or more.”

(Information supplied by the Rivier Sports Information Dept. was also used in this report)