Photo via Vassar Athletics Written by Nicholai Babis and Ryan Lipton
The Vassar Brewers, not known for their athletic prowess among DIII schools, are on the rise. Vassar is a small liberal arts college located in the Hudson Valley of New York. With just 2400 students, the Brewers’ athletic program is starting to make noise.
The men’s soccer team made it to the NCAA Tournament but lost a heartbreaker to Elizabethtown College. The team has a promising future, though, with a good core of freshmen in place.
It is the men’s volleyball team, however, that is garnering national attention.
The men’s volleyball team is now ranked No. 2 in the country, and is on their way to the conference tournament in a league that boasts five top-15 teams in the country; the UVC is by far the best league in all of DIII volleyball. Vassar is in prime position to take home their first UVC title. They’re the top seed in the conference and host all the games at their home gym, Kenyon.
Last season, the Brewers fell in the semifinals at New Paltz. This year, they’re hoping for revenge on their home floor, with a possible rematch looming against the No. 5 New Paltz Hawks.
Home court advantage has its obvious benefits, but junior setter Zechariah Lee doesn’t want the team to get too comfortable.
“Having the tournament at home is a luxury that can also be dangerous for us,” Lee told The JR Report. “We get to play in a familiar space with a great crowd and we get to sleep in our own beds. While all that is great, we can’t get comfortable. We need to stay on our toes and play the best volleyball we can possibly play.”
Lee has been an invaluable asset to the team during his three years at Vassar. In 2015, he was the UVC rookie of the year. The following season, he posted 998 assists (no. 4 in the conference) and 68 blocks. He’s improved on those numbers this year though, already totalling 1,041 assists in his third season.
The Brewers have never played in a UVC final match. This years team set a school record with 28 wins. Lee discussed what has made this team special:
“We go into the gym, we work hard, we get better, we play with a chip on our shoulder, and we fight. We’re not flashy, we don’t hit extremely hard, but we play as one unit and that has helped us in so many ways. Each person on this team pushes each other to get better every single day and when the people you play volleyball with feels more like a family than a team, it’ll show. We just work hard and have fun while doing it.”
After last year’s semi-final loss, Lee still hears murmurs that Vassar is “not on the same level as New Paltz or Springfield or Stevens.” Vassar has already beaten New Paltz and Stevens this season.
According to Lee, this year’s biggest surprise has been the freshmen, who’ve contributed immensely to the program’s success. One such player is Yoni Auerbach, who has 172 kills on the season.
Another key asset for the Brewers has been team MVP and junior hitter Matthew Knigge; he was just honored as the national player of the week.
After spending a semester abroad in Russia, he’s returned stronger than ever. He leads the entire NCAA Division III in blocks per set with 1.36, and is fifth in the nation (tops in the UVC) in hitting percentage at .432. He’s already posted 315 kills this season–13 more than last season–and shows no sign of slowing down.
Knigge discussed how the team’s new found energy has contributed to their play:
“Losing in the semi-finals last year and, just, then missing out on the national tournament last year definitely left us feeling pretty jaded,” Knigge told the JR Report, “so this year I think it will not only give us some energy and something to work towards, but also help us build off of our previous post-season experience.”
The Brewers earned a bye, and will be competing in the semifinals on Friday, April 14, at 2:30 PM at Kenyon Hall in Poughkeepsie, New York. The final will be held on Saturday at 2PM. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for students. Children 12 and under are free.
If you can’t make the game, it should be streaming online here.
Vassar is looking to win their first UVC league title, hopefully putting them in great position for the NCAA Tournament later this month.
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