Lewis U.’s men’s volleyball in NCAA semifinal tonight
May 2, 2012 6:50PM
Lewis' Jay Petty. | File photo
Updated: June 4, 2012 11:07AM
Dan Friend was hired Aug. 4, 2004, as the Lewis men’s volleyball coach after building Newman University of Wichita, Kan., into an NAIA power.
The Flyers were coming off the black eye of their sports history. Two Lewis volleyball players from foreign countries were found to have played professionally in Europe. The school had to vacate the 2003 NCAA national championship — Lewis had been the only Division II school to win a Division I national title — and endure scholarship reductions and four years of probation.
But Friend, who replaced Dave Deuser after the Flyers reached the 2004 national semifinals, and the players he would recruit were on a positive track. They were determined to do things the right way, face the best competition possible and in time return the program to prominence.
“Lewis always had a great program, but what happened was unfortunate,” Friend said as he prepared the Flyers for their trip to Southern California, where they will meet USC at 10 p.m. Thursday in the NCAA National Collegiate Men’s Volleyball Championship semifinals at the Galen Center on the USC campus.
“My goal was to bring it back to elite status. All the guys who played here before these guys (Friend’s early recruits) did a great job, and these guys we have now were able to break down that wall.”
The Flyers (26-6) earned a berth in the Final Four when they won a five-game match at Ohio State to claim the Midwest Intercollegiate Volleyball Association title. The Buckeyes had beaten Lewis in three games March 31, the only three-game loss the Flyers suffered all season. Payback was sweet.
Now, the objective is to win it all. The semifinal schedule pits No. 1 seed UC-Irvine vs. No. 4 Penn State and No. 2 USC vs. No. 3 Lewis. USC (23-5) is ranked No. 1 in the nation but lost in its conference tournament, which Irvine won.
Realistically, what are Lewis’ chances?
“They play a faster game out there. But if we play our game, we will be OK,” Flyers redshirt junior outside hitter Jay Petty said. “It will be tough for us in a hostile environment, but we’ve been there before. We have to cut down on unforced errors, on service errors. There was a time this year when that was a problem.”
“The mental part to get to this point takes time,” Friend said. “Failure builds character, and we had to go through that.
“We can beat USC. We went there for a fall tournament and went three (games) with them. They’re on a 14-match win steak, but that’s why we went there in the fall. We were able to get a match in the Galen Center.
“We’re in a good mental spot right now. Winning at Ohio State for the MIVA title bodes well for us being able to play on USC’s home court.”
Petty, the MVP of the MIVA Tournament, is joined in Lewis’ lineup by two redshirt seniors, middle blockers Matt Gallick and Aaron Flick, along with redshirt sophomore setter B.J. Boldog, redshirt freshman outside hitter Geoff Powell, junior libero Eric Varney and freshman outside hitter Greg Petty, Jay’s brother.
Powell and Varney are Californians, Flick is from Ohio and the other regulars are from the Chicago area.
“We have seven or eight guys on the roster from the Chicago area,” Jay Petty said. “When I came here (from Downers Grove North) I wanted to prove we can play with kids out there in California because I know we can.
“This is one of the best groups of guys I have ever been around. To have two fifth-year seniors, that right there tells you something. We’re all great friends on and off the court.”
As for having his younger brother on the team, Jay Petty said, “It’s incredible how much fun that is. He won the National Player of the Week the week we played Penn State.”
Friend noted the camaraderie.
“The Chicago area is such a hotbed for boys volleyball, and this is one of the most fun groups I have been around,” he said. “They excel on and off the court.
“We have a good mix. Flick is a great captain and (Jay) Petty is extraordinary with what he can do on the court.”
Petty and Boldog are second-team All-Americans.
And now, here they are, competing for a national championship that would not be stripped from them.
“The sanctions were tough on the returning guys that next year,” Friend said. “On the other hand, starting as freshmen, guys knew they could come in here and compete against the UCLAs and Ohio States, and that was a great thing we were able to sell.
“Maybe we got second-tier guys for a while, not the top tier, but the guys we got wanted to grind it out. We were 10-18 early on (in 2006) and by 2009 we were 21-8 and split with Ohio State and beat UCLA. Some of these guys were part of that.”
It has been a process, but a gratifying journey nonetheless.
“When I got here as a freshman, the seniors showed me how to deal with everything and do things right,” Jay Petty said. “They really worked hard to get the program back to where it was.
“We’ve had our ups and downs, but it’s all been worth it.”