‘It feels like it just started’: men’s volleyball season ends with Senior Day split

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Photo: Kayla Buck

Emerson men’s volleyball team setting up an attack.

By Vivi Smilgius, Editor-in-Chief

Arm in arm with family and coaching staff, Emerson seniors Josh Elliot, Jackson Gordon, and Rory Dobbins walked onto the volleyball court for photos. 

Behind the seniors, the walls of the Bobbi Brown and Steven Plofker Gym were donned in purple and white streamers and brightly-colored posters congratulating them on successful careers. The soundtrack to the morning: a standing ovation from everyone in the gym. 

When the photo-ops concluded, the 6-19 Lions took to their home court against the 1-21 Dean College team as the first part of Saturday’s doubleheader. Emerson entered the game with two key players—junior middle blocker Neiko Pittman and sophomore pin hitter Luke Roehm—out due to injury, cutting the Lions’ usual 10-person roster to eight.

“They’re two really good players, but they’re also two of my best friends here,” Elliot said of Pittman and Roehm after Saturday’s games. “[Playing without them] was tough… but I think it also gave everyone a little extra fire.”

Only the top six teams in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference make the playoffs. Consequently, the seventh-place Lions knew Saturday’s games would be their last of the season—and for the seniors, of their careers—regardless of the outcome. Head Coach Ben Read said the team planned to treat Senior Day as an opportunity to leave it all on the court for the seniors one last time.

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“We knew we didn’t have a shot at the playoffs, but it was a good chance to go ahead and compete and come out with at least one W,” Read said. “[Injuries] changed the landscape of our team quite a bit, but it was nice to see different people step up in different roles.”

Saturday’s first set opened with a kill from middle blocker Ramsis De Los Santos on a set from Elliot. Elliot tallied another assist immediately after, setting the Lions ahead 2-0. The Lions extended the lead to 11-4 with help from a couple of blocks by first-year setter and pin hitter Bayden Slavik. 

A scrappy play returned the serve to the Bulldogs, but a kill from first-year pin hitter Jack Meissner brought it back to the Lions’ side of the court. A service run under Slavik put the Lions in winning position up 23-10, and another kill from De Los Santos put Emerson at match point. The Lions took set one 25-12.

The Lions jumped ahead early in the second set, securing a three-point lead, but Dean tied the score at seven after a series of hard-fought plays. The teams exchanged points and wound up tied again at 17. A kill from Dobbins put Emerson ahead 18-17, but Dean fought back with a kill and a block to go up 19-18.

Gordon responded with a block of his own, tying the score at 19. De Los Santos tallied another block and Meissner drove a kill down the line, putting Emerson ahead 21-20. The Lions won the set 25-22 on a kill from Dobbins.

Meissner opened set three with a kill on a set from Elliot, and the Lions capitalized on Bulldog errors to string together a 10-4 lead. After a series of back-and-forth points, the Lions made another run and went up 15-8. 

A Bulldog kill, an ace, and back-to-back attacking errors from Emerson put Dean within two, but Emerson pulled ahead 21-17. A kill from Gordon and a series of diving saves advanced the Lions to match point. The Lions won 25-20, sweeping their third GNAC win of the season.

After a three-hour break, Emerson returned to the court for the second game of their Senior Day doubleheader, facing the 14-14 Elms College.

The Lions opened the second game trailing, but a dump from Slavik and an ace from Meissner evened the score early. A Dobbins stuff put the Lions ahead 7-6, but a tip kill from the Blazers knotted the score again at seven.

Slavik tallied a handful of blocks, but a strong Blazers offense sent Elms ahead 16-12. After an Emerson timeout, the Blazers tallied two more points before a kill from first-year pin hitter Bryson Beck stopped the bleeding. Elms regained momentum following several Emerson errors, and the Blazers took the first set 25-17.

The trend of Emerson errors continued into the second set, but a powerful double block from Meissner and De Los Santos brought a bit of energy back to the gym. The Blazers strung together a series of kills to send the Lions down 5-3. The Blazers extended their lead to six, pulling ahead 12-6.

Emerson couldn’t seem to outrun its errors, trailing 19-10 during Elms’ largest lead of the game. A series of Elms net violations put the Lions back in the game—though still trailing 21-15—but the Blazers strung together the last few points to win 25-15.

Despite going down 0-2, the Lions entered the third set fighting. A stuff from Dobbins put the Lions ahead for the first time since the beginning of the second set, but Elms quickly tied the score at three. 

A Blazers error and another block by Dobbins brought Emerson ahead 5-3, but Elms answered with a quick kill from the middle. The teams exchanged points and Emerson extended its lead, capitalizing on a lack of blocks from the Blazers. A long rally ended in Elms’ favor, bringing the score to 11-10 Emerson.

Emerson met each attack with scrappy defense, but Elms went ahead 13-12 and maintained the lead for the rest of the game. While the Lions tallied a few points down the stretch, the Blazers secured the final plays to complete the sweep over Emerson, 25-18.

By the end of the day, Emerson’s seniors had rounded out their stats. In 77 sets of play over the course of his college career, Elliot racked up 432 assists, 233 digs, 107 kills, and 51 aces; Dobbins tallied 89 kills and 48 digs over 84 sets; Gordon contributed 18 aces and 13 digs in his 58 sets.

Though the split record wasn’t the ideal Senior Day finish, the Lions’ soon-to-be graduates said it was enough to play with their team one last time.

“We all knew we’re not making the playoffs,” Dobbins said after the game. “This is our last game and we’re going off with a bang. I have to give props to all the underclassmen—they played for the seniors, they really did.”

Read said he was happy about the team’s performance, crediting the Lions’ sustained hustle to the team’s love for its seniors.

“I’m just happy that we showed up and fought well today,” he said. “I think that’s because [our seniors] are meaningful to the team.”

The class of 2023 missed roughly a year and a half of playing time due to COVID. Elliot reflected on his shortened career after the game, adding that he hopes to continue playing in graduate school overseas.

“It feels weird, like it just started,” Elliot said. “It’s a little strange for it to wrap up now… but I’m surprisingly content.”

In the offseason, Read plans to give the team a short break before working to grow the roster and get back in the gym.

“Depending on what happens with [recruiting] and tying people together in the summer, we’ll start goal-setting,” he said. “For right now, let’s enjoy what we had this season, relax for a week or two, and start working hard in the weight room and getting touches this summer.”