3/25- The Freemen men’s volleyball squad traveled to Northfield, MN this past weekend for the NIVC Conference Championships.
The squad began the weekend with an impressive showing in pool play; winning nine consecutive sets in the first stage of the Championships.
In the first match, Providence’s flew by Bethel University 25-18, 25-19, 25-18. Their momentum continued into the Freemen’s second match, knocking off the University of Minnesota Duluth 26-24, 25-21, 25-13. The Freemen then clinched first place in their pool after cruising by St. Olaf College 25-14, 25-20, 25-21.
Their dominant play in the first round moved the Freemen to a top seed heading into the Challenge Round. The significance of each point and error was also amplified after the opening round, as matches turned into best-of-three-set contests. Providence looked confident as they blew by Winona State 25-16, 25-20 in their opening match of the second round.
To finish off the first day of action, the Freemen faced Minnesota State Mankato, a squad who had toppled Providence earlier in the season. Providence began the match looking much like they had throughout their first four games of the tourney, jumping out to a 19-15 lead late. However, Mankato was able to rally behind some strong power hitting and unforced errors from the Freemen to steal the set 25-23.
Rather than killing the Freemen’s spirits, the loss only seemed to motivate the fiery squad, as they rebounded to destroy Mankato in the second set; 25-11 in what was as dominant a performance one could observe in a match between competitive college programs.
But, Mankato found a response to the shellacking and earned a 7-3 lead early in the third set. Dallen Klassen saved the Freemen though, throwing the squad on his back as he helped the Freemen claw back to a 8-7 lead behind six consecutive points off his serves. The Freemen’s hitters then took over, and junior Josh Friesen finished the match off with a pair of explosive attacks from the middle as Providence won the match in three sets (23-25, 25-11,1 5-13).
The win moved Providence into the ‘A’ Final against the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire, the only other team able to defeat the Freemen this season. A win would slide them into the tournament’s finals, while a loss would force them into a match against the winner of the #3 vs. #4 ‘B’ Final. The two powerhouses showed why they were the tourney’s top-ranked squads early on, putting on a display of athleticism until they were locked up at 16 points apiece. The Freemen fell to a couple of mental errors and a pair of suspect calls from the official. The 4-point lapse at the midway juncture of the set was too much to overcome, and the Eau Claire won 25-19.
Providence and Eau Claire then continued their epic battle into the second set where the squads continually traded leads throughout. But this time the Freemen were able to remain consistent, and, after heading into extra points, Providence handed Eau Claire its first set loss in conference play this year, 27-25. However, Eau Claire responded by firing on all cylinders out of the break. On the back of its three-time conference MVP Tim Bomgren, Wisconsin won the set convincingly 15-8, taking the match in three sets (25-19, 25-27, 15-8).
The loss dropped Providence into a semi-final match-up against the University of Minnesota Duluth while Eau Claire moved onto the finals to await the victor. With a chip on their shoulder, the Freemen strutted their stuff in the first set hammering Duluth 25-15. However, the school from south of the border surprised their northern neighbors in the second set as they held the lead until late in the set. Fortunately, the Freemen vets stepped up, clinching the squad’s place in the finals with the comeback and a 25-22 score.
Freemen head coach Jason Peters says he left the weekend impressed by his squad’s play.
“Eau Claire are deserving champions,” Peters says. “Despite the loss, I feel pretty good about where we are heading into our final challenge” [the NIVC National Tournament].
“One could argue Eau Claire may be the top team in the nation so we are very aware of what we have to do to be successful at nationals. We are very capable of playing with and beating the top teams in the nation, but we need to play with more consistency.”
And while the Freemen were not able to bring home the Conference Championship, their strong tournament play and the motivation of a tough loss may just be the perfect combination to motivate the squad into a long run at the National Tournament.
Written By: Kaiten Critchlow
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