When Kean’s Mens’ Volleyball Head Coach Don Perkins reflects on the accomplishments of his young but hungry team, he couldn’t have predicted from the outset that it would have seen this much success this season.
But with a record of 25-10 and earning the Skyline Conference championship in only its second season of existence, the team is an extraordinary success indeed.
“It’s a huge achievement to get this far this fast,’’ said Perkins, who was selected as Coach of The Year in the Skyline Conference this season. “We have been fortunate in a lot of ways. To see the guys’ (players) enthusiasm, it’s nice to know that they get it. This isn’t something that happens every year and we could do this another 10 years and might not get another shot like this. This has been a special kind of season, and the players clearly appreciate it.’’
Now the team is looking ahead to participating in the first-ever NCAA Division III Men’s Volleyball Tournament at Springfield College next Friday. Kean, which earned one of six automatic bids in the tournament, will face off against Hunter College, which posted a 25-8 season record.
Perkins said his team won’t make the mistake of looking past Hunter.
“We want to make sure our eyes don’t get bigger than our appetite,’’ Perkins said. “If we think about other teams following this contest, we are going to be in trouble. Hunter is a good team with a couple of good outside hitters. They start with five seniors and we start with four freshmen. At the end of the day, it’s going to be a coin flip and whoever comes out and plays better is going to win the match.’’
Perkins feels confident that the team will rely on the services of standouts Steve Vahalla, who was named Player of the Year in the Skyline Conference and Christian Portera, the team’s lone senior.
“They’re the difference between us and other second-year programs in the country,’’ Perkins said. “When we’ve needed Steve to step and be great, he has done it. But he isn’t a “look at me’’ kind of player. He isn’t playing to get himself a trophy. He’s about being on a good team that gets a trophy.’’
Being named Coach of The Year wasn’t on Perkins’ radar either.
“I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it,’’ he said of the honor. “I wouldn’t even call this the best season I’ve had as a coach but when you have the results we’ve had and the guys I’ve been fortunate to work with, you get more attention.’’
While Perkins would naturally want to have a great showing in the NCAA tournament, he said nothing can diminish his team’s stellar work this season.
“It’s something that’s really beyond comprehension,’’ he said of the team’s season performance. “Who could have imagined that a second year program like ours could be the fourth seeded team in the NCAA tournament?’’