GOSHEN — The Goshen College men’s volleyball team first set on Saturday wasn’t a smooth and easy one, despite the opponent.
The 14th-ranked Maple Leafs — coming in winners of four straight matches — got off to a slow start against the worst team in the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference, eventually hanging on to win the first set 25-21.
Coach Jim Daugherty’s group improved as the match went on, showing much more confidence and clean play in the second and third sets to win 25-15 and 25-17 to sweep Cornerstone in straight sets to improve to 10-4 on the season and up the match win streak to five for the second time in program history.
“We went five sets (Friday) night with Aquinas College (Grand Rapids),” said Daugherty when asked about his team’s slow start. “We had to play last night and turn around and play today, so that’s part of it. We were just a little fatigued.”
Cornerstone (0-9, 0-6) came out with a lot of energy against one of the best teams in the WHAC and didn’t have the appearance of a winless and struggling program early on.
The Golden Eagles stayed within a few points of the Maple Leafs over the entirety of the first set, including cutting a 24-18 Goshen advantage to three before Cornerstone’s error gave the Maple Leafs their match point.
Early in the second set, it was much of the same. The Golden Eagles tied Goshen at 7 and looked to be playing some inspired volleyball. However, that’s when the Maple Leafs started flexing their talent.
Goshen outscored Cornerstone 18-8 after being tied in the second set, growing its lead from 15-11 to 22-14 before finishing off the Golden Eagles to go up 2-0.
After the first two sets, Goshen was led by juniors Alexander Rabadzhiev and Lucas Sauder. They both had seven kills each through two sets and just five combined errors. Senior Michael Wahl did a good job of distributing the ball with 18 assists after two sets.
By the third set, it appeared Cornerstone was dealing with its own fatigue as the Maple Leafs looked their best during the final set of play.
Goshen quickly jumped out to a 4-1 lead, enlarging that to a comfortable 13-5 tilt later on. The Maple Leafs led by as many as 10 points before going on to end the match in straight sets with a 25-17 win in the third set.
“As a team, we know what we have to do,” Daugherty said. “As the match went on, we got to it. We did this last weekend by starting out slow, but by the second and third sets, we were pouring it on. … I’m happy as long as we are on top at the end. It’s a long game and momentum swings back and forth frequently in volleyball.”
Rabadzhiev and Sauder each led their team in kills with eight and seven, respectively; junior Andy Bennett was next with five and senior Elias Baer had four, while Wahl ended the match with 25 assists.
The Maple Leafs upended the Golden Eagles in kills (33-21), assists (30-19) and digs (23-18) and are now tied for first in the conference with No. 10 Indiana Tech (8-2, 4-1) who will come to Gunden Gymnasium to matchup with Goshen on Tuesday night at 7 p.m.
“To get a five-set match win, our middles will have to play well,” said Daugherty on the key to beating Indiana Tech. “Our outsides will have to be on target as well, but I like the way we matchup with Tech. If you look at the statistics, we matchup with them very well.”