Photo provided by Steve Woltmann: On April 4, junior Yiwei Zhou had six kills and three blocks as the Flyers swept Ohio State.
Kevin Ryan, Sports Editor
Last year, the Lewis University men’s volleyball team was a revered group. The squad captured the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) regular season title, the MIVA tournament championship and they advanced all the way to the Final Four in Los Angeles.
The 2013 team recently took one step in matching what they accomplished last year by clinching a share of the regular season MIVA title on April 13.
The Flyers helped their cause to the regular season title April 4 when they hosted Ohio State on Senior Night, which honored Jay Petty, Brian Collins and Marc Denson.
“It was a great environment for three great seniors,” head coach Dan Friend said. “It was an opportunity to honor those guys and tell them thank you for everything they’ve done for the program.”
With the Lewis community supporting “Black Out Night,” the Flyers swept the Buckeyes for the second time this year 25-18, 25-23, 25-18.
The first set was tied at 13-all until OSU made two errors, giving Lewis a 15-13 lead. From there, the Flyers went on an 11-5 run to take the first game. The second set was a different story as the Buckeyes took a late 21-20 lead. Junior BJ Boldog came up with had a huge solo block to put Lewis up by one and eventually take a 2-0 match advantage, and Lewis went on to complete the sweep.
Leading the Flyers were sophomore Eric Fitterer with 14 kills, and freshman Bobby Walsh, who had nine kills, hit .600 and also contributed five block assists.
“We’re very talented,” Friend said of his team beating OSU. “It just tells us we’re capable of playing some high-level volleyball and ultimately getting on the run as we get into the postseason.”
Friend also spoke very highly of his seniors.
“Three great guys, and no better way to go out and beat Ohio State in three and come up with a great win,” he said.
However, the season did end on a sour note for the Flyers as they fell short in their last two regular season matches.
Their first loss was to No. 15 Ball State 3-1 (25-18, 24-26, 25-18, 25-15). During the match that was played in Muncie, Ind., the Flyers offense struggled as they only hit .182 in the first set, .147 in the third set and -0.65 in the fourth.
Friend gave the Cardinals a lot of credit.
“Those guys are playing great,” Friend said. “They’re on a hot streak; won 12 matches in a row, and they were at home. It was a total opposite atmosphere from what we’re used to playing. We made a lot of unforced errors both serving and receiving.”
Two days later, Lewis traveled to Fort Wayne, Ind., to close out their regular season against IPFW. Lewis went into the game short-handed, as they were missing their starting setter, Boldog, and ended up getting swept by the Mastodons (25-16, 29-27, 25-23).
“BJ was out because he suffered an injury, so we lost our quarterback,” Friend said. “Basically, those guys came out and saw a little blood in the water, and they were on fire.”
Although the Flyers didn’t end the regular season like they wanted, the news of winning a share of the conference title and earning the No.1 seed in the MIVA tournament overshadowed the losses.
Now, the Flyers are looking ahead to accomplish something that “unofficially” hasn’t been done in the program in 10 years, and that is win the MIVA tournament at Neil Carey Arena. (I say “unofficially” because the NCAA took the tournament title and Lewis’s national championship from the 2003 season in 2004 for recruiting violations.)
Acknowledging and somewhat ignoring what has happened about a decade ago, Friend said, “It’s something we’ve never done since I’ve been here. So the opportunity to host at home and play in front of our home crowd will be exciting. We get great crowds at home, so I’m excited for that.”
Lewis is now waiting to play the winner of the No. 4 seeded Ohio State vs. No. 5 Grand Canyon game, and they will play that team in the semi-finals of the tournament on Wednesday, April 24 at Neil Carey Arena, with the first serve scheduled for 7 p.m.
As for Boldog, Friend is almost positive he will be healthy for the postseason.
“BJ suffered an injury, but should be cleared by Thursday,” Friend said. “He is progressing nicely and should be ready.”
Looking down the road, Friend does believe his team has a chance to do what last year’s team couldn’t do, and that is win a national championship.
“I think they have an opportunity,” Friend said. “I think we have the possibility of winning a MIVA Championship and put ourselves in a position to win a national championship. We got the talent to do it.”
To check out the tournament schedule and live stats, visit www.mivavolleyball.com.