Men’s volleyball falls to Wentworth in heartbreaking semifinals.

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Jason Tulchin

The men’s volleyball season ended with a hard-fought and emotional loss to Wentworth.

By Jason Tulchin

The Emerson men’s volleyball team ended a run ten years in the making, closing out their journey across the competitive 2022-2023 GNAC lineup with a hard-fought final loss to the Wentworth Institute of Technology. The first-seeded Leopards, who had claimed the previous GNAC championship trophy in ‘21-’22 season, were projected to dominate the underdog fifth-seeded Emersonians—who many hadn’t even expected to see in the semis. In the eyes of head coach Benjamin Read, this made the Lions’ defiance even more impressive.

“It was just people in that first set [that] just kept building— it snowballed in a good way and built that momentum,” Read said. “We looked at Wentworth and they were just laughing, like ‘what the hell’s going on?”

While the Leopards would go on and claim the GNAC championship for the second year in a row against Lasell University, the memories of an unexpected semifinals run—which the program hasn’t accomplished since a decade ago in the 2012-2013 season— was victory enough for the Pride.

The Game:

The first set was a closely contested affair between the Lions and Leopards. A small but energetic visiting crowd was cheering on the Lions, who managed to hold Wentworth to a low .156 hit percentage while racking up an impressive .379 attack percentage. The score was tied five times early on before Emerson started to pull away, going on a 12-4 run to take their biggest lead of the set at 18-10. However, Wentworth fought back and chiseled the lead down to just two points at 20-18, thanks to an 8-2 run that ended with an ace and a pair of swings. The Lions managed to bump their lead back up to five points at 24-19, but the Leopards responded with a three-point run to make it 24-22. Unfortunately for the hosts, a serving error by Wentworth at the line ended their comeback hopes, allowing Emerson to seal the first set, 25-22.

The second set of the game was a hard back-and-forth, much like the first. The Lions and Leopards went back and forth with five ties and five lead changes, tying up at 1-1, 2-2, 4-4, 5-5, and 6-6, with each team crawling forward by a handful of points. Wentworth then broke the 6-all tie and went on a 7-1 run to gain a six-point cushion over Emerson at 13-7. Despite the score, the Lions gave their all offensively and defensively, sophomore Libero Bryson Beck consistently throwing himself onto the court for dive balls. However, Wentworth’s offensive powerhouse continued to dominate, going up 17-11 after an ace began their momentum. Emerson managed to close in on the score with a spike from sophomore setter Bayden Slavik and an attack error from Wentworth, making it 21-17, the closest the Lions were able to get to the Leopards. However, a kill from WIT’s Sam Etter block put the score at 22-17, and a following block put Wentworth up 23-17. The hosts then closed out the frame with the final two points, as Emerson fell 25-17. Wentworth responded in the second set with a .483 attack percentage on 18 kills, taking the frame 25-17 and locking the match up at one set apiece.

In the third set, Emerson College managed to keep up with Wentworth early on, with neither team gaining a lead of more than two points. The set started with an out-of-bounds tipoff from WIT give the Lions first point before the Leopards came back and tied the score at 1-1. Dorsey was able to break WIT’s scoring streak with a kill, bringing the score to 8-9. Emerson was able to pull within one point on a service error at 11-10, but fell back on a netball. Junior OH Luke Roehm buried a spike to bring the score to 15-11, but a 6-1 streak from the Leopards put the Lions in a six-point hole, leaving the score at 17-11. Dorsey, assisted by Slavik, managed to score a kill, breaking the gap, though a service error from Emerson saw the score settle back with a six-point difference, 18-12. WIT climbed back up to 20-13 before a recovery from Slavik and a successful block from junior outside hitter Neiko Pittman broke their score streak at 22-14. A faulty serve from Emerson brought WIT within one point, and they closed out the set 25-15. 

Emerson knew that the fourth set was their last chance to keep the match alive after falling behind 3-1. However, they found themselves in an early five-point hole with a Wentworth ace sealing the lead. The Lions were able to drag themselves out of the pit with a service error from WIT and a kill by Pittman, narrowing the gap to 6-2. A point-for-point exchange followed, and Emerson’s defense stepped up with a dramatic defensive play from sophomore right-sider Jack Meissner who nearly dove over the commentator’s booth to keep the ball from going out of bounds. A following Meissner tip-over brought the Lions within four points at 9-5. However, Wentworth went on a 10-4 run to reach a double-digit lead of 19-9. Despite forcing a handful of errors from Wentworth with high-pressure offense, Emerson could not stop the Leopards’ aggressive, close-range spikes. The Lions continued to trail within double digits through the final portion of the frame and fell to Wentworth, 25-12, in the final set.

Postgame:

For some Emersonians, the game represented something to learn and improve on for the last season. For others, it was a somber end to a long career with more uphills and downhills than the Boston Marathon. 

“I’m feeling everything,” said Pittman through watery eyes. “I’m feeling heartbroken. I’m feeling proud. I’m feeling every emotion ever […] since the beginning of the season, people have looked down on this team. As one of the captains, I have never accepted that and we have worked so fucking hard. I can’t tell you how much this program has changed in the last two years.”

Pittman, who led the Lions offensively with nine kills, had the privilege as a captain to not just witness, but help orchestrate the Lions’ comeback tale this season and seasons past.

“We were ranked seventh and we came into the fifth seed and then we went to the semifinals for the first time in ten years,” he said. “It was an amazing underdog story.”