Baruch College’s mens volleyball team has struggled out of the gates, losing their first seven games of the season. The Bearcats fell just short of a championship in an exhilarating five-set CUNYAC tournament final in 2016 and anxiously awaited the 2017 season. But as their rotation has lost five seniors to graduation and over half of the current roster consists of freshmen , a lack of experience could explain the precipitous drop in their performance. Nevertheless, the remaining veterans on the team are among the most accomplished players in the conference.
Senior captain Brendan Murphy is ranked top 10 in both assists and digs per game while middle blocker Samuel Rabidoux is top seven in blocks and hitting percentage. The duo, along with opposite hitter Stephen Roach and 2016 Team Rookie of the Year Nicholas Godino are on the frontline of Baruch’s offense.
The glaring weakness, however, is the team’s defense, which has allowed the second-worst hitting percentage, assists and kills per set in the conference. On top of that, the offense suffers the most blocks per set.
The Bearcats often find themselves in competitive sets, but frequently fail to finish strong. On Feb. 4, they faced a tough three-game slate at the Ramapo College Quad in Mahwah, New Jersey, starting with the host team. Baruch matched the Ramapo Roadrunners point-for-point in the first set 12-12 until a stretch of errors forced it to call a timeout. The Bearcats won possession back thanks to a service error by Ramapo’s Paul Close, but failed to capitalize as the Roadrunners went on a 7-4 run to end the first set 25-17.
The two sides were mirror-images in the second set, exchanging multiple two-point advantages. Murphy dished out 10 of his 21 assists and Roach collected four of his 10 kills to lead the Bearcats, but a late error handed the Roadrunners a 25-23 second set victory. The third set was eerily similar to the first, with Baruch trailing 14-11 before sophomore Nathaniel Chin and freshmen Aaron Kim and Ryan Pape subbed onto the court. Ramapo dominated the rest of the match with a combination of a rigid defense and efficient offense; their 0.407 hitting percentage and four blocks in the set put the Bearcats away for good at 25-15.
Up next for Baruch was the even more impressive Lasell College Lasers, who entered their match with an 8-0 record having dropped one set all season. The Lasers sat atop the Great Northeast Athletic Conference in kills and assists per set, outclassing Baruch in all major offensive categories and had the more experienced roster. Fresh off a victory against Stevenson University, the Lasers were primed to take out the struggling Bearcats, but Baruch displayed grit and tenacity throughout the match.
Godino and Roach scored the first four points for Baruch in the first set, all assisted by Murphy. Later in the set, Murphy and Rabidoux combined for a block and Lasell senior Patrick MacDonald committed an error, which brought Baruch within one and forced his team to burn a timeout.
The Lasers went on to win the next seven points during Tristan Davis’ service due to a pair of aces, errors by Chin and Roach and kills by Jeffrey Vautrin. Just one point away from conceding the first set, Baruch gave a valiant effort to stay alive, but a ball handling error by middle blocker Jacob Rudin ended the set 25-19.
Baruch jumped to a 3-1 lead to start the second set, but dug itself in a hole it could not come out of with five straight errors. The Lasers offense never relented as it took the second set 25-17. The lopsided nature of the match granted the freshmen a chance to familiarize themselves with the physicality of college-level athletics.
By the time the third set rolled around, the entire roster had a taste of in-game action. Though the match ended in straight sets 25-15, Baruch had no time to dwell on its mistakes as one game remained on the docket for the afternoon.
Baruch’s final opponent of the day, the Stevenson University Mustangs, was also swept by Ramapo and Lasell, giving hope for a more competitive match. But the Mustangs never trailed as they demolished the Bearcats in three sets of 25-17, 25-16, 25-15. They tallied 10 blocks to Baruch’s two, outhit Baruch 0.333 percent to 0.000 percent and notched 11 more assists than the Bearcats, who seemed depleted of energy at the end.
All three of their opponents had at least one thing in common: experience. A majority of their rotations featured upperclassmen with refined instincts from years of developing chemistry on the court.
Despite the misfortune, there is no reason for the Bearcats to throw in the towel just yet. In fact, the team still has a full slate of CUNYAC matches coming up and can easily flip the tables come playoffs.
With every humbling loss, the team gains invaluable game experience and learns to gel and come to form. Should it capitalize on these experiences, it will be back to its winning ways in no time.