Kingsmen volleyball races to victory on opening day of ‘huge’ tournament


Photo by Isabella Veljacic - Reporter

The Kingsmen are looking to qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in the program’s history.

Isabella Veljacic, Reporter

California Lutheran University men’s volleyball has recorded its program’s best start to a season with a ninth win in a row after the Kingsmen’s three-set victory over the St. Norbert College Knights. The Kingsmen’s record improved to 17-6 after the first game of the Cal-Lu-Fornia tournament.

“It’s 14 guys that really have each other’s back, and the chemistry, it’s probably one of the best groups that we’ve had in eight years,” Head Men’s Volleyball Coach Kevin Judd said.

Since the men’s volleyball team does not have a conference like the rest of Cal Lutheran’s sports teams, Judd said that the Cal-Lu-Fornia tournament is “huge” for them as it is equivalent to a Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championship. 

The Kingsmen will play their remaining tournament games March 17, 18 and 20. Judd said that winning each game is essential in order to stand a chance at qualifying for the National Collegiate Athletic Association D-III Tournament. The other teams in the tournament are No. 3 ranked Lasell University, Nazareth College, Juniata College and University of California, Santa Cruz.

Despite starting the season with 24 players, the team’s roster is currently comprised of 14. Judd said that injuries and players struggling to balance the grind of school and college volleyball meant that several members were lost.

Graduate outside hitter Sean Fitzpatrick said a small roster leaves the bench with a few substitutes, which can be challenging when it comes to resting bodies deep into the season.

“I heard a statistic that our middle blockers can jump anywhere around 120 times a night at least, and with only two of them on the team, it carries no sub for them,” Fitzpatrick said. 

Although substitutions are limited with the small roster, junior middle blocker Noah Rigo said the decrease in roster size strengthened the team. 

“We are 14 strong and we’re gonna finish with these 14 guys, absolutely,” Judd said. 

Along with having the best team chemistry Judd said he has seen, the Kingsmen are on track to having the best record in the program’s history.

“It’s great to do good things and break records for the program, it’s always motivating and pushes us to do more and do better,” Rigo said. 

Both Rigo and Fitzpatrick said that last year’s season continues to be a great motivator for them, as they missed a chance at the NCAA Tournament by one loss. 

“Every game is a big game,” Rigo said.

He finished Wednesday’s game with three blocks, which was more than St. Norbert.

Judd said that they are a part of “Pool B,” where they are fighting for a bid in the NCAA Tournament against other independent teams from the east and west coast. 

“Our season is on the line essentially every time,” Fitzpatrick said. 

In order to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, the Kingsmen must be one of the 16 nationally ranked Division III teams. They have seven games left in the regular season.

Judd said that this is a good opportunity to “turn some heads” if they finish on top during this invitational. He said that he knows his team is going into the game against UC Santa Cruz looking for revenge.

“If you think about our season this year it’s been a constant upward trend of how we’ve been playing and how we’ve been learning. We’ve been fixing our adversities, so going into this game we are so excited to battle as a unit,” Fitzpatrick said. 

The Kingsmen’s next match of the tournament will be against UC Santa Cruz on Friday, March 17 in Gilbert Arena at 6 p.m. Judd said that this could be the deciding game for the Kingsmen in their bid to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.