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After coming so close to winning the national championship match last season, the Lakeland College men's volleyball team was finally able to realize its ultimate goal by capturing the program's first Division I title at the NIRSA National Championships over Illinois, 2-0 (25-23, 28-26) on Saturday, April 12, in Dallas, Tex.
The Muskies (52-8) were able to put all the pieces together at just the right time this year, producing their best team efforts of the season at the national tournament. Lakeland had also fallen to Illinois three times prior to the national tournament, most recently conceding the MIVA Championships title match to the Illini, 2-0 (27-25, 25-21) on March 30. The fact that the Muskies were able to overcome a tough Illinois club with the added pressure of the national title match makes the win that much sweeter.
"It's the best feeling I've ever had in my life," said senior defensive specialist Shawn Voelz. "I'll probably never experience anything like this ever again. Everyone on our team just played out of their minds. With this being our second time in the national championship match we came in with more experience, and since a lot of us are seniors we knew it was our last chance."
Although the each game of the match went down to the wire with the second game going into extra points, senior outside hitter Matt Martin never doubted that he and his teammates would win the championship this time around.
"I had complete faith in my teammates," said Martin, who was named the National Player of the Year. "They were the biggest part of why I came back to play another year because I knew this group had the best chance to win. They really stepped up and helped me out during times where I wasn't playing as well as I would have liked."
The match provided equal excitement for Lakeland head coach Chad Schreiber, as he was able to help his team get over the hurdle of having lost to Illinois all season.
"I felt just as good going into that match as the others this weekend," Schreiber said. "This is the national championships where anything can happen. We knew how bad we wanted it, and after losing last year we knew just how bad that hurts and didn't want to go through that again.
"Our serve receive was better, our serving was more effective and we never allowed them to get on a run. We closed them out with our blocking, and Matt Martin's leadership and Joel Julkowski's serving were part of what helped us break through."
The Muskies carved a fairly smooth path leading up to the national title match Saturday night, but first the squad had to play through tough matches against James Madison, Cal Poly and University of Central Florida that provided a few bumps along the way.
Lakeland was forced to play an extra game with both James Madison and University of Central Florida, but eventually took the matches, 2-1, with scores of 25-22, 21-25 and 15-13 against James Madison followed later by a win over Central Florida in the semifinals, 25-13, 23-25 and 15-11. In between, the Muskies downed Cal Poly in the quarterfinals, 2-0 (25-22, 25-21).
"We squeaked by James Madison and showed control against Cal Poly," Schreiber said. "But after blowing out Central Florida in the first game, they rallied and really made things close throughout the rest of the match."
In addition to Martin, Julkowski and senior middle hitter Avdo Omerbegovic were named first team All-Americans while senior middle hitter Jared Rohland was a second team selection. Junior setter Matt Clemens received an honorable mention.