By John Boccacino/Sports Information Director
Ask any of the returning student-athletes on the Keuka College men's volleyball team, and they will tell you the Wolfpack fell short of its goals during the 2014 season.
One year removed from claiming the inaugural North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) postseason championship in Keuka's first year as a program, the Wolfpack slipped in 2014 and finished with a 9-15 overall mark (3-5 NEAC), missing out on qualifying for postseason play.
The failures from last year only motivated junior co-captains Tom Campbell (Penfield, N.Y./Penfield) and Connor Hinman (Lethbridge, Alberta/Catholic Central) and the other seven returners to work even harder to get the Green and Gold back into the NEAC tournament in 2015.
Led by Hinman, the reigning NEAC Player of the Year, and Campbell, who earned second-team All-NEAC honors last year, a deep and talented men's volleyball team opens the season Friday night at the annual Johnson & Wales Tip-Off Tournament in Providence, R.I.
Keuka plays Purchase College at 6 p.m. and Lesley (Mass.) University at 8 p.m. Friday, and Lasell College at noon and Johnson & Wales at 2 p.m. Saturday to kickoff the season.
"Every returner came into this season with a chip on their shoulders," Campbell said. "Last year didn't end the way we wanted it to. But this preseason, the effort and hustle has been incredible. We talked about our team goals for this year and we want to make it to the NEAC tournament, we want to have a winning record, and we want to do it with a little bit of style.
Hinman, an outside hitter, led the Green and Gold in both kills (237) and digs (172), and the outside hitter's stellar play earned him his second straight first-team All-NEAC honors.
Hinman averaged 3.08 kills per set with 2.23 digs per set, leading the Wolfpack in both categories. He ranked second in the NEAC in kills/set, and was fifth in digs/set.
"Our expectations are that we will be in the NEAC finals and I don't expect anything less," said Hinman, who posted 14 matches with double-digit kill totals in 2014.
"Our really deep group of freshmen recruits, plus the returners from last year gives me the confidence that we can accomplish our goals. We are coming for the NEAC title again."
Campbell, who was second on the team in kills (174) and third in blocks (43), averaged 2.18 kills per set, second-most on the team and the seventh-highest average in the NEAC.
He is switching back to his natural middle hitter spot after spending much of 2014 on the outside.
Junior Josh Makin (Lethbridge, Alberta/Catholic Central) is moving to the middle hitter spot after compiling 85 kills with 142 digs. Makin, Campbell and Hinman provide third-year head coach Ben Guiliano with ample talent on the front line.
Also returning are juniors Manny Colon (Rochester, N.Y./East), Luke Ferruzza (Penfield, N.Y./Webster Schroeder), Christopher Mooring (Chesapeake, Va./Hickory), and Aaron Rydzynski (Hamburg, N.Y./Hamburg).
Mooring was second in digs per set (1.79) and was third in digs (122) in 2014, while Guiliano said he has been impressed with the progress and talent shown by Ferruzza.
Sophomore Cooper Lyon (Lethbridge, Alberta/Catholic Central) transferred to Keuka Park after one season playing Division II volleyball at Coker (S.C.) College.
Guiliano said Lyon, a libero, is a phenomenal passer with good serve-receive skills who will contribute immediately in 2015.
Jackson, a 6-foot-6 outside hitter, and Brill, a 6-foot outside hitter, possess tremendous finishing skills and will give Guiliano plenty of powerful weapons on the outside.
"Definitely one of our strengths is with our hitters," Hinman said. "Between myself, Josh and Tom, and talented freshmen like Tim and Aaron, we have a lot of hitting talent on the outside and up the middle."
"We're a little on the small size, but we're very athletic and I think our ball control will be above average," added Guiliano, who has compiled a 21-32 record with one NEAC title in two seasons.
"We have some big jumpers and I think we'll be competitive with everyone we play. It doesn't matter if we're playing guys who are 6-foot-5 or guys our size; our athleticism will allow us to compete because we are a very athletic group."
Corcoran, Avery and freshman Connor Gail (Euclid, Ohio/Villa Angela-St. Joseph) give the Wolfpack three solid passing options at setter, with Corcoran the most experienced of the bunch. But Guiliano said he has been impressed with how far Avery has progressed as a setter in the preseason, and that Gail is making strides, too.
"We have a good group of talented guys this year and it should be a lot of fun," Makin said. "We have a lot more depth than we've had in the past years, so we're going to see a lot more guys making their way onto the court. We'll be strong on defense, with our blocking and with our passing, and we're a very athletic team. We will put ourselves on the line to try and get a ball up, we will be diving all over the place and that's one of the attributes we have going for us."
After playing four matches in two days at the Johnson & Wales tournament, Keuka hosts Penn State-Behrend at 12:30 p.m. Feb. 1. The annual Keuka College Invitational, sponsored by the Keuka Restaurant, is Feb. 6-8, with NEAC play starting Feb. 14 at Lancaster Bible College.
Medaille College, a perennial power ranked 15th in the American Volleyball Coaches' Association's preseason top 15 poll, is joining the NEAC in 2015. Also joining are D'Youville College, Hilbert College and Penn State-Altoona.
SUNY Polytechnic is the defending conference champion.
To view the complete schedule, click here.
"Through the preseason, we've really had better ball control than we've ever had in this program, and that's really exciting because we have some guys who can kill the ball and can really put the ball down," Campbell said.
"We've already set a goal for ourselves to try and make the NEAC championship final, which I definitely think is attainable," added Makin. "We need to just keep growing as a team and not plateau during the season. We will continue to get better and hopefully do great things within the NEAC."