In the end, Emerson’s men’s volleyball team didn’t take a single set against Rivier University in nine tries this season. But on Tuesday night in Nashua, New Hampshire, the Lions gave the Raiders a game in what was predominantly a seesaw battle throughout.
The straight-set loss, 25-19, 25-23, 25-16, eliminated sixth-seeded Emerson (9-16, 5-10) from the Great Northeast Athletic Conference quarterfinals—the first postseason round. Third-seeded Rivier (21-10, 11-4) held serve in their home Muldoon Gymnasium by finishing the clinching set with a strong 9-3 run.
Sophomore Raider Grant Andler and junior Ian Wolski repeatedly proved too much for the Lions to handle at the net. The duo combined for 25 kills.
Emerson head coach Ben Read said that while having just played their opponent five days earlier helped in constructing the game plan, Rivier also found a way to improve during the layoff.
“They raised their level of play last night, and so did we, but they were just at another level that we couldn’t compete [with],” Read said. “For the most part, we knew what their hitters were going to do, we just weren’t necessarily able to stop them. I think we did a better job of slowing certain people down. We made them earn their points a lot more last night.”
The first and second sets were characterized by back-and-forth scoring. Rivier never led by more than six points in the first set, which they eventually won 25-19. And in the second, which was the most passionately played of the evening, the Raiders never led by more than five.
Despite the lack of sustained runs, Rivier seemed to be in the driver’s seat all night, never falling behind by more than three tallies.
Their biggest scare came in the waning moments of the second set, when Emerson rallied from a five point deficit to tighten the score, 24-23, before the game point. Read signaled for a timeout after the Lions fell behind 19-17, then watched as Rivier responded by scoring three consecutive points following the stoppage. After he requested another timeout, Read’s players strung together a 4-0 run of their own to pull within one.
“Volleyball’s just a game of runs,” Read said. “The ball fell our way a couple times, I think they made a couple [of] mistakes. We made some great plays, and we actually had an opportunity to tie it up at 24. We could’ve very easily pushed them to overtime right there, and who knows what could’ve happened after that.”
Freshman outside hitter Mark Piorkowski, who led the Lions in regular season kills, finished with a team-best 10, making the difference in front of the net for Emerson. Piorkowski stepped up in the second set, collecting three kills and an ace within a span of eight points being scored. Piorkowski’s final stat line was aided by the presence of setter Brendan McGonigle, who posted 29 assists.
Piorkowski said he was relocated from right to left side hitter after the first set in the coaching staff’s attempt to get him more involved. He said he began to play with more emotion, and also had more opportunities in the second set.
“I felt like we needed someone to step up, and I thought that I might as well do it myself,” Piorkowski, a marketing communication major, said. “I thought I got set a little bit more; I think [McGonigle] trusted me a little bit more in the second set.”
The match was completed in short order, lasting just one hour and 15 minutes. The Lions will lose five seniors—McGonigle, Jackson Wiley, Jared Gross, Austin Pinckney, and Ben Hillman—ahead of next season. Read said it will be difficult to compensate for the loss of the upperclassmen in 2017, and added that it’s too early to know if the team’s style of play will remain consistent next season.
“The system we use is going to depend on the players we have. There may be some things that we think are going to be successful in the long run, but if we don’t have the players to do that, we can’t do that,” Read said. “We’re not going to be able to replace those guys in one recruiting class by any stretch of the imagination.”