REBECCA OSOWSKI & NICO MANGANIELLO
Men’s Volleyball using GNAC, national ranking as motivation
The men’s volleyball team shined last season, defeating nationally ranked programs and competing in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) Finals. They entered this season ranked #14 in the country and #2 in the GNAC, tallying three first-place votes.
Head Coach Jeff Vautrin believes this year’s rankings came from their strong performances last season. “The win over #1 Springfield will be a match to remember for years to come but also our wins over Endicott, Wentworth and Elmira were also very formidable wins to help us gain some national recognition,” Vautrin said.
Despite their strong performance Vautrin and senior Jesus Garcia say the ranking is an honor. “After the season we had in 2022, the national ranking and the GNAC ranking was expected. However, to be considered as one of the premier programs in the GNAC and in the country is definitely an honor,” Vautrin said.
Garcia echoed, “We believed that we deserved to be ranked and be in the conversation as one of the best teams in the country. It was a huge relief to know that much of our hard work had been paying off. It was a huge honor to be recognized as such by other coaches from around the country.”
Currently sitting at 6-5 this season, Vautrin says the team started a little slow, however, Garcia says it was to be expected. “We knew that every team would be giving us their absolute best every single time. Being ranked, while an incredible honor, puts a huge target on our back because everyone wants to beat us and prove themselves,” Garcia said.
While not the start they hoped for, senior Riley Grenier says the schedule has its benefits, especially with the team’s goals to continue their dominant play in the GNAC and make it back to the playoffs and hopefully, the NCAA tournament.
“Playing a tougher schedule definitely helps for playoffs. Playing at the highest levels day in and day out only makes us tougher and when we get to conference playoffs, we will be fully prepared for every team we will face,” Grenier said.
Despite the early struggles, Garcia says the end goal has not changed. “The expectation is to not only go back to the GNAC championship game but to win it and make some noise in the NCAA tournament,” the senior said. “We believe that at our best, we can compete and beat any top team in the country. That is the expectation we put on ourselves right after last season ended.”
With their eyes on a deep playoff run, Garcia stated the importance of using this stretch of adversity to take lessons and improve as a team. “Our biggest improvement needs to be our focus and mentality. I think we have faced the pressure of being a top team and it has got to us in certain situations,” Garcia said. “I think we need to really focus on changing our mentality of always doing our job, making sure that we do our system, and limiting our own self-inflicted errors.”
As the Lasers strive for a GNAC championship, their focus and mentality will drive them in the heat of conference play.