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The Lakeland College men's volleyball team fell just short of earning the program's first national title, falling to local rival UW-Oshkosh, 2-1 (16-25, 25-23, 17-19) in the championship match of the NIRSA National Tournament on Saturday, Apr. 14, in Louisville, Ky.
"I think it would have been hard to lose to anyone, just because our whole goal this year was to finish with a national championship," said head coach Chad Schreiber. "We came out not playing at our level in the first game, then we spotted them some points playing at that same low level in game three and had to come back. Our serve receive broke down and our blocking didn't do what it was supposed to do. Those had not been issues the last two times we played them. We have kept our serve receive in check and our blocking has been a major contributor for us."
However, the second place finish marks a first for the program just the same, improving upon a third place finish in 2005.
The Muskies (49-8) can also take pride in their ability to finish tight matches with 2-1 wins in both the quarterfinals over Utah Valley (25-23, 23-25, 15-13) and in the semifinals over Maryland (25-16, 20-25, 15-13), after sweeping Virginia Tech, 2-0 (25-16, 25-22) in the Gold Bracket opening round.
"We played championship-caliber teams at a high level," Schreiber said. "We found a way to break them down before they broke us down."
Senior outside hitter Matt Martin teamed up with sophomore outside hitter Joe Julkowski against Oshkosh to lead the offense with seven kills apiece, while Martin also tallied five blocks and three digs and Julkowski added five digs and four blocks.
Martin was also a consistent force in the day's other matches, growing stronger throughout the day with a team-high 12 kills and six digs against Utah Valley and a team tournament-high 14 kills in the squad's victory over Maryland in the semifinals.
Junior middle hitter Jared Rohland also produced a strong showing, leading the offense with 11 kills and five blocks against Virginia Tech and also tallying eight kills, five blocks and three digs against Utah Valley. Sophomore setter Matt Clemens and Julkowski also provided significant back-up on the both offense and defense, with Clemens putting up a total of 52 assists, 13 digs and six blocks between the Utah Valley and Maryland matches and Julkowski recording a team tournament-high six blocks to go along with seven kills and three digs against Maryland.
Martin, Rohland and Clemens were all recognized with All-American awards for their efforts in the tournament, as Martin and Rohland received first team honors while Clemens was named a member of the second team. Schreiber also received an award, as he was dubbed Coach of the Year.
"There was not one of our guys that didn't find a way to contribute this weekend," Schreiber said. "All of them were significant to our success, we weren't carried by just a couple of people."