Raiders set to move on to NCAA volleyball tourney

Photo courtesy of Rivier University It was a familiar pose Saturday night for the Rivier University men's volleyball team after winning their second straight and ninth overall GNAC championship, qualifying them for another trip to the NCAA Division III tourney.

NASHUA – This morning some of the Rivier University men’s volleyball players may be tempted to cut class.

That’s because the NCAA Division III Tournament Selection Show will be live on line at 10 a.m. The Raiders have a good reason to watch it after their 3-0 Great Northeast Athletic Conference championship sweep of Wentworth Institute of Technology Saturday night at the Muldoon Center.

It’s the Raiders’ second straight GNAC title and ninth overall after a three-year drought. But it wasn’t easy. Rivier cruised in the first set, 25-18, but had to rally in set two from a 17-12 deficit to win 25-20. They then were down 8-2 early in the third set, fought back and had three match points foiled before tourney MVP, junior outside hitter David Smith, recorded his team high 12th kill, a thunderous spike to the right side to seal a 28-26 title clinching win. An unforced service error by Wentworth gave the Raiders their fourth crack at a sweep.

“Smith was a stud,” Raiders coach Craig Kolek said. “It was unreal. The guys never lost their belief in each other. We talked about it all year long – stay in the moment and be positive. Worry about each point and the result will take care of itself.”

Riv is currently ranked 13th in the country in the latest American Volleyball Coaches Association Top 15 poll, and are now 25-7 on the year. The Raiders went through the entire GNAC season, regular and post, unscathed at 16-0.

Besides Smith (.318 hitting percentage), senior Kahynen Yocca had 10 kills (.438 clip) and junior Francis Kokoros added nine.Freshman Jack Normandin had six digs to lead the Raiders, while junior Pedro Campos had a superb 37 assists. Ryan Love had 13 kills to lead the No. 2 seeded Leopards, who put up a good fight. But this has been Riv’s year since the season began in January.

“It was unreal,” Kolek said. “This is a mentally strong team and it took just that to stay disciplined and come back from a big deficit in Game 2 and to persevere in Game 3.

“We took their best punch and maintained our composure to win the match.”

And now it’s on to the NCAAs. Rivier is one of 10 schools to get an automatic bid while four more get an at-large.The Raiders will find out who and where they play today, and the tourney begins on Friday with the winners that day advancing to the quarterfinals on Saturday.

The Final Four will be April 26-27 at Harwood Arena in Union, N.J.