Volleyball Second in Fourth Annual MIT Invitational Tourney

The men’s volleyball team, ranked eleventh in the nation, lost to no. 12 Ramapo College 30-25, 26-30, 30-25, 34-32 in the championship match of the fourth annual MIT Men’s Volleyball Invitational on Sunday. Ramapo, a public liberal arts college in New Jersey, won the title in its first appearance in the tournament, denying the Engineers their third MIT Invitational title.

Despite the loss in the finals, MIT still played well as the host, going undefeated in Pool A play. The Engineers began the weekend tournament on Saturday evening by easily defeating fellow North East Collegiate Volleyball Association New England Division member Mount Ida College 3-0. They followed that victory with a 3-0 win against the University of New Haven.

On Sunday, MIT concluded pool play with a match-up against the College of Mount Saint Vincent. Again the team didn’t drop a game, sweeping the Dolphins 3-0 and earning a spot in the championship game later in the afternoon.

Ramapo College was equally as dominant in Pool B, dropping only one game in its three matches. Ramapo lost the second game in its match against Bard College, losing 32-30 before winning the next two to take the match. In its third game, Ramapo beat Emmanuel College convincingly, 30-17, 30-25, 30-19. This prevented Emmanuel from playing MIT in the championship, in what would have been a rematch of the Jan. 22 match in which Emmanuel barely edged the Engineers 20-18 in the fifth set to hand MIT its only New England Division loss of the season.

The championship game, which featured two of the top Division III teams in the country, lived up to its billing. The teams traded games early, with Ramapo taking the first game 30-25 and MIT answering 30-26 in the second. The Roadrunners raced out to an early 8-2 lead in the third game and carried a comfortable lead for the duration of the set. A few impressive digs by Rampo brought their lead to 13-6, but MIT fought back hard and closed the gap to within four. At 29-25, Ramapo finally secured the set and took a 2-1 lead into the fourth game.

Solid net play from both sides kept the fourth game close at the start, with the score tied at 7-7. Ramapo then went on another run, building a 15-9 lead to prompt a timeout by MIT coach Paul Dill. Ramapo then took the lead to 21-14, but the Engineers responded by playing their strongest volleyball of the weekend.

Down by seven, the resilient Engineers did not give up, as strong defense and hustle brought them back into the game. A kill by Praveen Pamidimukkala ’08 brought the deficit down to four at 22-18, and a nice block by Malcolm K. Bean ’11 pulled the Engineers within one, 25-24.

With the game tight, MIT brought in co-captain Stephen D. Ray ’08 to serve. The serve deflected off the net and carried over, catching Ramapo off-guard and tying the game at 26-26.

Rampo won the next point to take the lead, but a kill by Garrett L. Winther ’11 once again levelled the score at 27. With Winther serving, Rampo was called for a double hit and the Engineers took the lead 28-27, prompting resounding cheers from the crowd of fans, which included many parents who had travelled across the country to see their sons play over the weekend.

The excitement picked up as the teams traded pressure filled points back and forth, tying the game at 29, 30, 31, and 32 (under the win-by-two format, a team must be ahead by at least two points to win the game). After MIT saved the first three match points, Ramapo finally broke through 34-32 with an ace that landed just inside the back line to give them the victory and the tournament title.

The Engineers continue their season Thursday night against division rivals Rivier College in Nashua, NH.