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Friday, April 20, 2012

Rivier faces Calif.-Santa Cruz in opener

In April, the robins begin chirping, the grass turns green and plush, and the Rivier College men’s volleyball team heads to the national tournament.

This year, Division III men’s volleyball has become completely under the auspicies of the NCAA, and the national championships have been whittled down from the previous 16-team affair to just one of eight teams. On Friday, the Raiders, seeded seventh, will take on second-seeded University of California-Santa Cruz (17-6) at Springfield College.

Is it a more difficult task?

“It’s shorter,” Raiders coach Craig Kolek said. “You used to have to go through four (matches). This year, it’s harder, even though you only would need to play three. But it’s a great experience.”

The Raiders qualified by winning their fifth straight GNAC tourney title, as they went 14-0 in conference play, finished 26-8 overall and were ranked 10th nationally at one point.

Host Springfield (30-5) is the No. 1 seed.

“It’s a tough matchup,” Kolek said of UC Santa Cruz. “We haven’t seen them in two or three years and they beat us three straight back then.”

Playing well right now for the Raiders are junior Steve Visentin, who is third nationally with 10.69 assists per set, and sophomore Alan Almario, who is one of the nation’s leaders and hits and blocks.

This year’s team? It may not be as good as the teams that have made the National Coaches Volleyball Association’s Final Four in the past, Kolek says, but it’s good enough. “We’ve had our ups and downs,” Kolek said. “We’ve done well. It’s a great experience, and it’s great to have the NCAA presiding over it.”

If they advance the semis are 4 and 6 p.m. on Saturday with the Division III national title game set for Sunday at 4 at Springfield.

DWC in ECAC tourney

Meanwhile, the Eagles of Daniel Webster College didn’t win the NECC volleyball title but did gain their first invitation to the four team ECAC tournament this weekend at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass. DWC, at 14-7, will take on top-seeded Ramapo (N.J.) on Saturday at 11 a.m. The winner will take on either Endicott or Albertus Magnus at 3 p.m. in the title game.