Royals Start Season With Sweep Of No. 3 SUNY New Paltz

Whether or not the 'stache made the difference, William Ragland was unstoppable on opening night. (photo by Scott Eyre)
Whether or not the 'stache made the difference, William Ragland was unstoppable on opening night. (photo by Scott Eyre)
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EMU's volleyball men set the tone for their 2018 season early, scoring the first six points against last year's national runner-up, SUNY New Paltz. The Royals will now look to carry the momentum through the upcoming campaign, as they took an impressive 3-0 sweep from the Hawks Wednesday night in Harrisonburg.

William Ragland (North Chesterfield, Va./Thomas Dale) landed three straight aces to finish that opening 6-0 run, and the men's tough serving kept SUNY New Paltz, ranked No. 3 in the AVCA Preseason Poll, off-balance all night. The Hawks snuck within 10-8 in the first set before Eastern Mennonite made a few short spurts to open up a 25-16 win.

The Royals, who had received votes in the national poll, again opened up a lead in the second, with Ragland landing another ace to cap a 4-0 start. Tim Callahan (Harrisburg, Pa./Central Dauphin) joined the party with an ace for a 9-3 lead before he teamed with Dan Lutz (Greencastle, Pa./Greencastle-Antrim) for a block and the biggest lead of the set at 15-7. SUNY New Paltz got within four, but the men had too much firepower at the net, taking the set, 25-20.

The third was different from the start, as the Hawks opened with a kill for their first lead of the night. Neither team managed more than two straight points until the visitors held a 15-12 margin. After a timeout, the Royals responded with back-to-back kills to trigger a 4-0 streak for a 16-15 lead.

SUNY New Paltz had a quick answer, shooting off a 5-1 streak. The three-point lead held at 22-19, forcing another timeout from Danielle Lickey, in her first collegiate match as head coach. Her calming message worked as Ragland answered the call with a kill, solo block and another kill to tie the score at 22-22. After a timeout from the Hawks, Callahan snuck an ace on the sideline before R.J. Ocampo (Virginia Beach, Va./First Colonial), Christian Taylor (Richmond, Va./Deep Run) and Ragland put up a massive triple block for a 24-22 lead.

The Hawks fended off match point twice to tie the score before the teams traded tallies for a 25-25 tie. Lutz and Ragland teamed to block a back row attack, setting up EMU's fourth try at match point. With the home crowd urging the upset, Taylor's knuckling serve was misplayed into the stands, fittingly ending the match with an ace and a 27-25 score.

Serve and serve receive were key, as Eastern Mennonite had eight aces compared to only four for the Hawks. Aided by solid back row play, the Royals offense churned out a .299 attack percentage, while SUNY New Paltz hit only .122. The men racked up 11.5 total blocks, including 5.5 in the third set.

Ragland did a bit of everything with 11 kills, four aces, three blocks and five digs. Lutz dominated the middle with seven kills on 11 swings along with five blocks. Ocampo, Callahan and Travis Abele (Mechanicsville, Va./Lee-Davis) each had a hand in three blocks.

Taylor ran a masterful offense with 28 assists. Micah Buller (Richmond, Va./Douglas Freeman) led all players with six digs.

Nick Smith topped the Hawks with 12 kills. Ben Cohen added six.

The Royals head to Utica, N.Y., this weekend for the SUNY Poly Invitational. The men play Rivier and No. 4 Vassar on Friday before getting host SUNY Poly and nationally regarded Nazareth on day two.