Winning is Fun
“We had so much fun.” – North Central Men’s Volleyball junior outside hitter Jared Moser
“Too much fun, that’s for sure.” – senior setter Matt Nealon
It’s easy to have fun when your team is having its best ever season, as was the case this year for North Central Men’s Volleyball.
Four Cardinals earned all conference honors, with junior Jared Moser, who set a new program record for kills in a season, making the first team for the third consecutive year joined by senior Matt Nealon, and juniors Jeremy Cardenas and Jake Miller named to the second team. Nealon, Moser and Cardenas all also earned All Region honors, with Cardenas earning the top honor of any North Central player as an AVCA First Team All American inclusion. But there’s a common theme with how the Cardinals feel about this pile of individual honors:
“That’s all noise,” said the much-decorated Moser. “We have goal in mind and that’s too be the best that we can. Individual goals, we kind of have a joke that every time we get a personal award it’s ‘oh, team award!’ I feel like everyone’s on the same page when it comes to that.”
“At the end of the day it’s a team award,” said Cardenas. “I wouldn’t be able to get that if I didn’t have all the passes that were passed to me or have the stats if I didn’t have Nealon setting me up every time. So it’s cool and everything and it’s an honor but at the end of the day it is a team award and I much would have rather preferred going farther and to get a ring on the finger.”
“You don’t get those awards unless you compete at a high level all year long so the fact that we were able to get so many people on that list is just a great feeling and it’s awesome to be able to be a part of a program where I’m put in a position to be nominated for those sort of awards,” Nealon said. “So it’s really something special and, yeah it’s great.”
The Best Season in Cardinals Volleyball History
That selflessness combined with individual excellence led to phenomenal team results. The Cardinals posted an 18-3 regular season record and reached the CCIW Championship game where they fell to defending and eventual repeat national champions Carthage. But it was still enough to earn the lone at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament, the program’s first postseason appearance.
“Getting selected with the at-large bid, the majority of us were watching it together and got the at-large bit and ‘hey, lucky number 16’ we were the last team announced and that was nerve-wracking, definitely,” said head coach Kyle Exline. “But getting selected for that at-large bid that was monumental for the program, our first experience, first time ever getting into the national tournament.”
It didn’t begin the way the Cardinals would have hoped, dropping the two opening sets to a Dominican team they had defeated earlier in the year. But they battled back to force a fifth set, only to lose the final frame 15-13.
“Our guys battled,” Exline said of the team’s performance. “We are extremely proud of them, and Matt Nealon said it great: this is the new standard that we built. I’m extremely proud of these guys. They’ve definitely created their legacy to get to that point. And we’re sad, but we weren’t disappointed with that loss. “
“We were able to set program records and have an amazing season and everything like that,” Cardenas said. “But at the same time we do remember how we felt after the losses, and it’s just a learning process from there. A lot of guys are returning, pretty much everyone except Nealon, so it’s just remembering that and how we felt and not wanting to feel that again.”
Ready to Go Again
Setter Matt Nealon is the men’s volleyball team’s only senior, with the rest of the roster returning to try and improve on this new apex for the program. Everyone with a stake in this team feels like they’re part of something special that’s been growing over the last seven years, with plenty higher to climb.
“I’m just really proud of the team and how they were able to enjoy the whole process and not take it too seriously and I definitely think that’s something that led to more success for us,” he said.
“Our goal has been the same ever since Exline recruited us and that was win a national championship and that’s not changing,” said Moser. “Obviously we’re proud of what we’ve done, but proud isn’t satisfied.”