Rivier men’s volleyball kicks off rebuild after disappointing 2015

Rivier University men’s and women’s volleyball coach Craig Kolek was thrilled to see 2015 come to an end.

Both teams are typically at a championship level, but the previous calendar year saw both the Raider men and women lose in the Great Northeast Conference finals at the friendly confines of Riv’s Muldoon Center. The men fell to Lasell last April and the women to Johnson & Wales this past November, both five-set losses. Thus, no NCAA trip for either.

"Yeah, 2015 wasn’t a really good year," Kolek said. "To have both teams lose at home, championship games, five-set losses, that’s a little hard to swallow."

The Raiders now have their shot at redemption after opening the season last Friday. However, the high expectations of 2015 aren’t there for the 2016 season.

"It’s a different year," Kolek said. "We’ve never been more of an underdog. It’s been awhile."

Why the change? Youth. The Raiders had a nucleus that, among other things, took them to a No. 1 national ranking early in the 2014 season and an NCAA tourney berth and then a return trip to the GNAC Finals.

"We’re young," Kolek said. "A lot of those players have graduated and now the guys who have been waiting behind them finally get their turn. We were due at some point. They’re talented, they definitely have the potential to (be as good).

"But mentally it’s starting over. Not skill-wise, but in a tight game we need to see how they are going to react."

Six-foot junior setter Tyler Blank, called "the floor general" by Kolek, will key Riv as a third-year starter this season. Junior outside hitter Ian Wolski, his coach says, "has been waiting in the wings, and we think he’ll do a lot of things for us."

One key senior could be libero Nick Ochoa of Whittier, Calif. Two others who are relatively new would be are 5-foot-10 sophomore outside hitter Garrett Bucklind and 6-foot-6 freshman Khaynen Yocca out of Pittsburgh, Pa. Keep an eye on Bucklin.

"I think he’s going to be pretty exciting to watch," Kolek said.

Simonini recognized among best

It seems the DWC women’s soccer players have been learning from the best. Eagles women’s coach Pete Simonini was recently named one of the 50 greatest players from New England in the January/February edition of New England Soccer Journal.

Simonini spent his college career as a goalkeeper at Plymouth State, where he posted a career 0.35 goals against average over four seasons.