MVP Tully Leads DIII No. 3 Vassar To Invitational Title


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POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. - The Vassar College men's volleyball team successfully defended its 2008 Vassar College Invitational Tournament title this afternoon with two hard-fought wins over Elms College and Nazareth College at the Athletics & Fitness Center. Led by strong attacking play from the invitational's Most Valuable Player, junior hitter Phil Tully (Huntington Station, NY/Walt Whitman) and sophomore hitter Evan Fredericksen (Menlo Park, CA/Menlo Atherton), who was named to the All-Invitational team, the Brewers ensured that, for the second year in a row, the tournament cup wouldn't have to travel very far to find its spot in the trophy case.

Vassar 3, Elms 2
In its third match of the weekend, Vassar took on an inspired Elms College squad that had dropped its first two contests on Friday, both 3-0 decisions. Against No. 9 Nazareth College, Elms forced two of the sets to 38-36 and 35-33 decisions, but still came up short. Vassar, meanwhile, had pulled off a 3-1 win over Philadelphia Biblical and a 3-0 win against Johnson & Wales, and had a seven-game winning streak going into Saturday morning's match-up. The Blazers truly brought their best game against the thriving Brewers, but the home squad made it eight straight with a hard-fought 29-31, 30-24, 30-28, 27-30, 15-13 win.

This was an offensive battle throughout; Vassar and Elms combined for 170 total kills through five sets. Sophomore Blazer Alberto Bravo (Colegio Carmen Sol/Toa Baja, Puerto Rico) recorded what would be the tournament-high in kills, with 36 on .537 hitting. He is just the third Division III player to break the thirty-kill mark in one game this season. Vassar's Tully nearly did so as well, with 28 kills on .434 hitting, and Fredericksen had 24.

The final set could serve as an archetype for the rest of the match. There was back-and-forth scoring, with 11 ties; the kind of battle one sees when neither team will accept a loss. Despite forcing a number of ties early in the set, Vassar did not take the lead until senior Steve Micucci (Millis, MA/Millis) sent one of his 18 kills over the net to lead 9-8. The Brewers did not relinquish the lead for the remainder of the set, largely thanks to some crucial digs from senior libero Scott Leserman (Manhattan Beach, CA/Mira Costa). Leserman was phenomenal in the fifth set especially, in which he repeatedly delivered key digs to keep the play alive. He would finish with a match-high 28 digs, which places him second in all-time digs in the Vassar record books.

Vassar's advantage at the 14-13 mark held for the final decision after Elms faulted on the ensuing serve, surely a tough way to end such a battle. The Blazers were at their best in the opening set, in which they hit .415 as a team and clinched a 31-29 decision despite trailing Vassar for much of the frame. Elms led only twice, at the 1-0 and 4-3 marks, prior to a Brewer attacking error that put them up 30-29. Carlos DeLeon-Gomez (Colegio Bautista de Carolina/Carolina, Puerto Rico) registered a kill on the next point to end the set.

In getting the win, Vassar senior setter John Kessenich (Chicago, IL/Richard Montgomery) tallied 79 assists, enough to push him over the 3,000 mark and to secure Vassar's all-time assists title in the rally scoring era. The milestone caps a memorable week for Kessenich, who last Tuesday was named the Sports Imports/AVCA Division III National Player of the Week.

For Elms, freshman Sequiel Sanchez Velez (Colegio Nuestra Senora/San Sebastian, Puerto Rico) had 21 kills and 16 digs, and Jesus Echevarria (Colegio Adianez/San Juan, Puerto Rico) contributed 54 assists.

Vassar 3, Nazareth 1
The Brewers saved the most anticipated match-up of the tournament for last, and the four-set contest proved worth the wait. Both No. 3 Vassar and No. 9 Nazareth had gone 3-0 in tournament play and were riding considerable winning streaks-Vassar with eight straight, and the Golden Flyers with six in a row. Of course, one of those streaks would have to come to an end in order to crown the tournament champions, and it was Vassar that pulled off a 29-31, 30-28, 30-27, 36-34 win.

Vassar, now 13-3, extends its win-streak to nine and has won thirteen of its last fourteen matches. Their 4-0 sweep this weekend secured a second straight Vassar College Invitational Championship, and will roll them into Wednesday's home match against Bard College at 7:00 pm. Nazareth drops to 14-4 and will next play at D'Youville College this Wednesday at 7:00 pm.

The tournament's Most Valuable Player, Brewer hitter Tully, was the offensive difference in the match. He recorded a season-high 30 kills on .389 hitting against Nazareth, and averaged 22.5 throughout four matches this weekend. The output was Tully's second thirty-kill career match, and following Bravo's performance in the Vassar-Elms match, he is the fourth Division III player to record 30 or more kills in a match.

It seemed early on in the fourth set that Vassar would be pushed to yet another five-set match. There were 22 ties in the fourth frame, and after the Brewers dropped behind 7-6 Nazareth held slim advantages until falling behind at the 30-29 mark. The Flyers built a three-point cushion at 18-15 (a sizeable lead in such tense play) when freshman Billy Gimello (Hauppauge, NY/Hauppauge) delivered a service ace, but Vassar soon came roaring back to tie it at 19-19.

Both Fredericksen and Micucci were dynamic in the fourth set. Micucci turned up the pressure in his attacking play, and Fredericksen delivered two straight service aces to pull Vassar out of a 28-29 hole and take the lead, 30-29. Scoring was back-and-forth until the 34-34 mark, at which point Tully sent his final kill of the tournament over the net, and a Nazareth attacking error sealed the deal for the Brewers, 36-34.

As strongly as they were hitting, neither team served particularly well in the match. Vassar finished with 20 service errors, and Nazareth had 18. When the ball was in play, though, the hitting was fierce. Golden Flyers Ryan Johnsen (Hamburg, NY/Hamburg) and Frank Leahy (Smithtown, NY/Smithtown) provided some great blocking for Nazareth, and Gimello was tops in kills for his squad, with 19 on .417 hitting. Johnsen and senior Kelvin Rolle (Henrietta, NY/Rush-Henrietta) each recorded 12 kills. Leahy also had 62 assists.

Micucci truly stepped up for Vassar, finishing with 17 kills, as did fellow senior Greg Maier (Millis, MA/Millis), who had 16 kills on .500 hitting. Fredericksen, who was named to the All-Tournament team, tallied 15 kills and 12 digs. Leserman once again kept the ball moving for Vassar with 13 digs.

Also named to the All-Invitational team were Bravo from Elms, Gimello from Nazareth, Sean Lauro (West Roxbury, MA) from Johnson & Wales, and Justin Brubaker (Telford, PA/Souderton) from Philadelphia Biblical.

Article courtesy of Vassar athletics.

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