DENVER — Two years after starting a men’s volleyball program, Lourdes University finds itself at the NAIA Men’s National Invitational. But for the Gray Wolves’ historic season to continue past pool play and into the semifinals, they’ll need to bounce back with a win today against No. 4 Clarke University in Denver.
The fifth-seeded Gray Wolves and second seed Grand View University both made their nationals debuts on Thursday. The two-loss Vikings prevailed in four games — 25-19, 25-18, 23-25, and 25-19.
For Lourdes, head coach Greg Reitz said the pressure of the high stakes may have led to a slow start. The Gray Wolves missed 22 serves on the match.
“We didn’t serve tough enough to miss that many serves,” he said. “They were able to pass our serves that were in better than we were able to pass theirs that were in. That’s usually the difference in a volleyball match.”
Lourdes was facing a daunting task to begin with. The only teams to beat No. 2 Grand View this year squared off in the 2013 finals. After working through the initial jitters, the Gray Wolves made some noise of their own, pushing the Vikings to the brink over the final two sets.
Lourdes stormed back from a 5-1 deficit in the third game behind kills from outsides Keanu Jacinto (Encinitas, Calif.) and Jo’Lon Clark (Compton, Calif.). Jacinto led the Gray Wolves with eight kills, with Clark, Frank Craig, and Brad Miller adding six apiece. The teams forced an 8-all tie, and the remaining game became a back-and-forth affair until the final whistle.
At 22-22, Clark and middle Julian Rivera (Bayamon, P.R.) teamed for a thunderous block on Grand View outside Felipe Nogueira, giving the Gray Wolves the late advantage. Two plays later, Clark clinched the set with Lourdes’ lone ace of the match — a dribbler off the net — avoiding a Grand View sweep.
“I think everyone felt the nervous kind of jittery, not sure if you’re going to perform or not,” Clark said. “But after we finished the first set we were ready to go. We realized we can take a game from the No. 2 team in the nation.”
That momentum continued into the fourth game, with the Gray Wolves tying the match at 13 apiece. But the serving errors that plagued Lourdes early returned late, with misses pushing the Vikings to 17, 20, and 23 points.
Attention turns to Lourdes’ final pool play match in a win-or-go-home scenario.
“We earned the right to be here by playing the volleyball we’ve trained in all season,” Reitz said. “We didn’t just get to be here. What we’re hoping to see is performances where we believed we belong here.”