HOBOKEN, N.J. – The Stevenson men's volleyball team battled tough all night long and managed to fend off nine set points against in the second set to win the frame 32-30 before ultimately succumbing to the third-ranked and host Stevens Institute of Technology in four sets by a final of 3-1 in the Quarter-Finals of the NCAA Division III Men's Volleyball Tournament on Saturday night at Canavan Arena.
With the defeat Stevenson (22-9) sees their season come to an end as well as a ten-game winning streak as the Ducks took the match by scores of 25-23, 30-32, 25-21, and 25-17.
The Mustangs were led by double-digit kills from junior Jason Gardner who finished with a team-high 17 hitting .361. He also added five digs and a pair of blocks. Classmate Landon Shorts and freshman Logan Smiley each posted nine kills and joined together to snag 11 digs, six blocks, and two aces. Senior Alex Klunk totaled seven kills and three blocks with a .312 attack percentage. Freshman Nate Reynolds and sophomore Kyle Bosko record five kills apiece while Reynolds chipped in five blocks to the cause as well. Setting tandem of junior Jared Chin and freshman Aleks Melbardis racked up 46 assists with Chin leading the way with 30.
Stevens (26-4) was paced by Gabe Shankweiler who recorded a match-high 19 kills hitting .300 with two digs and an ace. Dylan DeBoer posted 17 kills to go along with five digs, two blocks, and an ace. David Lehman also hit double-digits in kills adding 11 on a .208 attack percentage in addition to three digs and three blocks. Thomas Burrell, Cooper Diamond, and Jonathan Frenzel joined together for 12 kills, seven blocks, and four digs. The setting pair for the Ducks of Jacob Patterson and Grant Burden handed out 54 assists with Peterson dishing out a match-high 39.
The match got off to a highly competitive start as the two teams shared the first eight points to be level at 4-4. Stevens would grab an 8-6 edge thanks to kills from Shankweiler and DeBoer aided by a combination block between Cagan Friend and Diamond. Stevenson answered the challenge by taking four of the following five on kills by Shorts and Gardner with a block assist between Shorts and Klunk helping out as well to take a 10-9 advantage. The Ducks came flying back using a 7-1 run getting scores from DeBoer (2), Shankweiler, Diamond, and a Patterson ace jumping in front 16-11. A kill by Shorts and Klunk along with an ace off the arm of Reynolds helped the Green and White to pull within one 19-18. However, a service error by Chin and DeBoer pushed the margin to three 21-18. Stevens kept a one to two lead all the way 24-23 before a kill from Lehman capped the first 25-23.
In the second the Mustangs jumped out to the early advantage using kills by Shorts, Klunk, and Smiley with contribution from Chin who picked up a pair of aces to go in front 6-2. A 4-2 spurt by the Ducks closed things down to 8-6 thanks to DeBoer and Burrell who each provided scores in that stretch. Shankweiler added another kill to his ledger to bring the deficit to 11-10, but a kill from Gardner sparked a 4-1 gallop for the Green and White to extend their edge to four 15-11. Stevenson held that four-point advantage to 17-13. Unfortunately for the visitors that work the home side up as DeBoer recorded a kill and ace while teammate Patterson added another score to level things 17-17. The two sides continued to exchange points out to 20-20 before consecutive Reynolds errors gave Stevens a 22-20 lead. Another Mustangs miscue put the Ducks with a set-point opportunity at 24-21, but a Gardner kill and Smiley ace drew the score even 24-24. The home side would then have six more chances to win the set and take a commanding lead, but kills from Reynolds (2), Gardener (2), Klunk and Shorts answered the bell each time. With the score at 30-30, an attack error by Patterson and Shorts kill got Stevenson on the board with a 32-30 hard-fought set win.
The teams shared the opening eight points of the third frame to be tied 4-4. Two Ducks service errors and a combination block for Reynolds and Smiley gave the Green and White leads of 6-4, 7-5, and 8-6. Kills from DeBoer and Lehman erased the two-point deficit to knot things up at 8-8. With the score still even 10-10 the Mustangs went on a 6-3 push thanks to kills from Gardner, Shorts, Smiley (2), and Reynolds to grab a 16-13 advantage. A ball handling error from Chin ended a 4-1 Ducks swim to draw even once again 17-17. Stevenson got back on their horse and rode a 4-2 run to a 21-19 edge thanks to Shorts and Gardner. From that point on, unfortunately, it was all Stevens as they took control of the service on a kill from Shankweiler and used that to capture the following five points completing the comeback in the set 25-21.
Then in the fourth, the Ducks got out of the gates flying riding the momentum from the end of the third to take a 7-0 lead with four different players recording a point in that streak. Stevenson got on the board finally on a Shankweiler error and kills from Bosko and Gardner to make it 9-3. The margin held at six as two Mustangs errors and a Melbardis kill saw the scoreboard read 10-4. A service miscue by Burrell and mishit on the attack from Shankweiler pulled the deficit to five 11-6, but the home side took five of the next nine to maintain a six-point advantage 16-10. The Ducks then really took control of the set with kills from Burrell and DeBoer extended the lead to largest of the frame at nine 19-10. Stevenson attempted to work on a rally trimming the margin to seven 19-12 on a kill by Smiley and an attack error by Burrell. A score off the arm of Shankweiler brought it back to an eight-point lead 21-13. The two teams shared the final eight scores of the match, but it was not enough for the Green and White unfortunately as the No. 3 Stevens Institute of Technology sent their fans clad in red into a frenzy with a kill from Lehman ending the set and the match 25-17.
The Mustangs as a team hit .268 on 53 kills, while Stevens hit .342 and totaled 61 kills. The Ducks shared the ball more picking up 58 assists to Stevenson 51. The Green and White held a slim edge on the service line at 6-4.
The Mustangs season comes to an end with a lot of positives. First off is the contributions of seniors Alex Klunk and Andy Van Thuyne. Klunk finished tied for fourth on the team in kills with 137 while adding 63 blocks with a .369 attack percentage. Van Thuyne totaled 39 digs and four service aces on the year. Another good thing out of this season is going 12-0 in conference play en route to capturing the inaugural Middle Atlantic Conference championship both regular season and tournament. Also giving the young guns a chance to experience NCAA Championship play and winning the First-Round match with No. 15 Elms College in straight sets. In addition to winning the conference title and an NCAA Tournament victory, the Green and White can also hang their hat on a victory they earned on February 10 when they took down Division I Ivy Leaguer Harvard University in four sets. So, on the whole, a very successful season for the Stevenson men's volleyball program in 2018 and things are only looking up for Head Coach Aldis Berzins and Assistant Brent Whitehead as they will go in search of the MAC repeat in 2019!