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Friday, April 1, 2011

Rivier men’s volleyball team returns to regionals

NASHUA – The Rivier College men’s volleyball team had that 2006 feeling a year ago and it didn’t pan out.

This time, they’d like to make amends.

The spring of 2006 was the banner year for head coach Craig Kolek’s program, as that is when it made the Molten Division III Final Four.

Last year the Raiders were the top seed in the Northeast Collegiate Volleyball Association regional tournament, but faltered in the semifinals and were denied a return trip to the nationals.

But, after winning the Great Northeast Athletic Conference title last weekend, they are right back in the 2011 NECVA regionals as a No. 2 seed this time, with a 2 p.m. showdown today against No. 15 seed Bard College on the campus of Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J. The winner of the tourney gets an automatic bid to the national Final Four April 15-16.

“I think we have a legitimate chance,” said Kolek, whose team is now 31-8 on the season. “It’s tough, it’s a 16-team tournament and you have to win four matches in a row. Last year we had a more experienced team; this year we’re young and we fight through things.”

But the Raiders were good enough to place six players on the GNAC All-Conference team, and can usually be counted on to make the regionals on an annual basis. This will be Rivier’s 11th straight NECVA tourney appearance.

Despite their youth, the Raiders do have a senior leader in the 6-foot-4 Jared Andreozzi, whom Kolek calls “a horse on offense.” This week’s GNAC Player of the Week for his tourney-winning performance, Andreozzi has over 500 kills and is poised to break the program record he set a year ago of 530.

But right now the Raiders’ fate seems to be in the hands of the younger players. Cheshire, Conn. native Steve Visentin, at 6-2, sets the tone as the team’s top setter while 6-7 freshman Aaron Almario, out of Alhambra, Cal., is second in the nation in blocks at 136; the program record is 147, which he could break this weekend. Junior Chris Convertito, at 5-5, is the team’s smallest player but most valuable defender.

Visentin, Almario and Andreozzi were named All-Conference along with junior middle/outside hitter Alex Xenidis, sophomore middle hitter Taylor Lidner and freshman hitter Sam Kazlas.

The top seed is 25-3 defending champion Nazareth College out of Rochester, N.Y., which is also hosting the nationals and thus already has an automatic slot.

If Nazareth, ranked No. 2 in the nation, reaches the finals this time, the team it faces will automatically get the NECVA bid to the Final Four. The title bout is Sunday at 1.

Food for thought: Riv swept Nazareth 3-0 earlier in the season.

“The teams in our bracket,” Kolek said, “we’ve either beaten them or lost to in five games. A lot of it is just going to be consistent, being aggressive and being confident.”

With the success they’ve had the last 10 years, that shouldn’t be a problem.