(Story first published by The Springfield Student)
The breakdown of the Springfield College men’s volleyball program is uncharacteristic to that of other teams within the Division III realm. The squad from Springfield, Mass. mostly isn’t from the region, but they have found new homes as members of the Pride family.
The 2017 roster contains three players from the eastern region of the country, eight coming from Puerto Rico, and the other seven players leaving California to choose Springfield College as the next chapter in their life where they could continue the game that they have always known.
“It’s funny to play into the stereotypes,” said senior Jason Weedon. “We play into the way
people naturally see us, but I don’t think that we bond just because we’re from California. It’s because we’re around each other every single day for three to four hours.”
Whether they started on the indoor court, or made the transition from the beach like
sophomore setter Mike Neary, the men from California all have a special love for every aspect of the game of volleyball.
“[Volleyball] is something I could do every day of my life. Something I could put 100% of myself into. I could have a good day or a bad day and I’ll show up to volleyball and it could be amazing,” said junior Billy De La Espriella. “Volleyball changed everything. It’s the best thing that’s happened to me so far.”
While Division I programs were on their radar to begin their recruiting process, the choice to attend Springfield is one that the California natives are proud to bring their volleyball experience to.
On a coast where most Division I men’s volleyball programs are located, it’s easier for players to be introduced to kills and serves at a young age. Sophomore middle blocker Kyle Jasuta was introduced to the game in sixth grade. He then continued his experience, playing all four years in high school and six years with his club team, SCVC, and made the choice to join the Pride for the 2016 season.
However, on the east coast and in the Midwest, high school programs are much harder to find, especially ones that prove to be able to compete at an elite standard. Jasuta’s roommate, Nick Rable, is an Oklahoma City, Okla. native. Originally, he was commuting to play with a club team since his high school did not offer men’s volleyball before he made the move to Huntington Beach, Calif. With that change, he won a California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) championship and competed in the national championship with his club team, The HBC.
Just like Rable, De La Espriella won the CIF and made a move of his own. However, it was not until his sophomore year of college was set to be underway that this change would occur. De La Espriella was originally in contact with coach Charlie Sullivan in high school, but to fulfill his vision of playing at the Division I level, he chose California State University, Northridge, a school just miles from his home. After one year, he was unhappy with his selection and made the switch to join the Pride on the east coast. Since then, De La Espriella has experienced a culture that made the move worthwhile.
In a program that has proven their value with a history of nine national championships and almost 900 wins at a .662 winning percentage over a 47-year span, the option of a college that provides great academic success and a dominant volleyball program attracts many student-athletes to its doors.
“If I was going to make the commitment to come to the East Coast for school, it was going to have to be here; playing for the best coach and the best program,” senior Trevor Mattson said.
The men’s volleyball team, under coach Charlie Sullivan, was named the preseason No. 1 in all of Division III and has continued to remain in the top spot with their 10-1 record.
Successes like the ones that Sullivan has brought to Springfield require team chemistry and for every player to trust the system of building their game and character.
“Coach Sullivan recruits guys, not just because they’re good players, but because they’re good people too,” De La Espriella said.
Weedon said that he has changed immensely since his arrival. “I go into everything with a much more positive attitude,” Weedon said. “I’ve really made an effort to listen to everything Charlie’s said and tried to use it to make myself a better person.”
What Sullivan provides these players on and off the courts has been a working formula that he has employed for 18 years and has been good to grab 364 wins in that span, second all-time for men’s volleyball at the school behind Tom Hay.
“The history of the program sets a culture that’s not similar to other Division III programs,” Mattson said.
In addition to Neary, Jasuta, Rable and De La Espriella, the Pride have another three members of their team who have made the move from the Golden State; all of whom are seniors.
Outside hitters Mattson, Weedon and Sean Zuvich are all west coast kids that have bought into coach Charlie Sullivan’s system and because of it, completed a championship run in 2014 during their freshman season.
For these seniors, however, this title run would be much more special than the victory that
occurred in 2014. The title game is set to be hosted in Blake Arena, and Springfield College
men’s volleyball are the favorites to take the crown.
“Competing in that setting would be an incredible culmination of all of the skills that we’ve been learning for four years, all the strength that we’ve gained, and all of the heart-break that we’ve had in the last two years. I think that would just be the pinnacle point of my volleyball career,” Weedon said.
Acquiring another championship would be just another testament to how much work that this team has put in.
“The team is something that changes the entire nature of the game,” De La Espriella said.
“Every guy on this team is playing for everyone else around them. We’re working for each
other, not for ourselves.”