For any other team at Emerson, a season-opening loss to Massachusetts Institute of Technology would be a tough start to the conference season.
But for the men’s volleyball team, the 3-1 set loss to the Engineers was a building block for the rest of the season.
Unlike other sports at Emerson, which in 2013 switched to the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference, the men’s volleyball team still competes in the Greater Northeast Athletic Conference, because there are no men’s volleyball teams in the NEWMAC.
In the other words, a loss against MIT, a member of the NEWMAC, has no bearing on the Lions’ playoff hopes going forward.
While coach Ben Read said he isn’t a big believer in moral victories, he said there was a lot of positives to take from the Lions’ matchup against the 12th ranked team in the country.
“That’s the most competitive we’ve ever played [against MIT], and to take a set from them and at times control the game was big for us,” said Read, whose team narrowly lost the first two sets, taking the third 25-18. “We lost. It’s obviously not something we want to do, but there were things from that match we can work with going forward.”
The Lions, whose current roster stands at just eight, lost only one player to graduation last year. Among those returning is junior libero Jared Gross, who was second last year in all of Division 3 with 3.25 digs per set.
The Lions have also added three freshmen. Read said he expects freshman outside hitter Nick Rusk and freshman middle blocker Stig Regan to make an impact this season.
Both freshmen started in last Friday’s game against MIT.
“I can help this team by bringing energy, by hustling, by relying on my jumping ability, and by listening to critique,” said Regan, a visual and media arts major, who Read called the most athletic player on the team. “All of our expectations are pretty high for this year, and I think we’ll have a good run.”
Last year, the Lions finished 11-15 overall, and 6-10 in the GNAC. They qualified for the sixth and final playoff spot, but lost to Emmanuel College in straight sets. Reed said this year’s team has potential to return to the playoffs and compete for a higher seed.
“If we can stay healthy, I think we can push for that fourth spot and not be playing one of the best seeds right away,” said Read, whose team has finished in the last playoff spot three years in a row. “Beyond that, I think we can finish with an above .500 record for the first time in program history.”
Their first conference game is at Mount Ida College on Feb. 3.
Before then, though, the Lions will face stiff competition with their Jan. 29 game against Springfield College, which has won the last three Division 3 national championships.