I’m tired of hockey. I’m tired of basketball. I’m tired of professional athletes and professional arenas.
Lasell College is a small school just off Comm Ave. in Newton. The Lasell signs don’t appear until the street finally turns pretty, making for a charming, if residential, neighborhood. It’s a compact, tightly contained campus, existing almost entirely within a few square blocks.
The school is small enough, freshman Sean Rooney says, for everyone to kinda know everyone.
“It’s definitely a more closely knit community of students,” he says.
The volleyball game takes place Thursday in their Athletic Center: a clean, fluorescent-lit gym painted in the school’s light and dark blues. The bleachers are small – a few rows of wood on one side of the court, a few rows of metal on the other – but a sweet balcony rings the court. I can just imagine it packed, fans raining jeers from above down onto rival schools.
I’d bet that a full Lasell Athletic Center gives the Lasers more of a home-court advantage than most D-III schools. And while Lasell may fewer than 2,000 total students, but I’ve got to say it has one of the coolest team names I’ve ever encountered.
Lasell is home to the Lasers. Lasers are basically light at its most awesome. Their opponents have a pretty sweet name too: the Lesley Lynx, which are bobcats worth way more points in Words with Friends.
Volleyball, meanwhile, is a “four-year sport.” Every four years the Summer Olympics come around, and everyone in the U.S. briefly becomes a volleyball fan. Usually, a tall blonde wearing not much clothing helps ease everyone in. Lest you think I’m sexist, both male and female famous volleyball players fit this description.
Once the Olympics end, usually successfully (at least one volleyball gold medal in six of the last seven Olympics), the sport recedes from popularity. There have been a few attempts at professional leagues in the U.S., but the last and best one died two years ago.
This volleyball game, unfortunately, is a bit of wash. Lesley builds a 7-3 lead early in the first game, mostly on the strength 6-4 middle hitter Max Hoevenaar.
As good as Hoevenaar is, the Lasers just have too many weapons to be held down for long. A serve out of bounds gives them the ball, they score six in a row to retake the lead, and they never relinquish it. In fact, the Lynx never lead again in any of the three games.
The Lasers win the first game 25-13. They quickly build an 11-6 lead in the second game, getting two consecutive aces from sophomore Matt Dione, plus four errors by the Lynx. The Lynx don’t set nearly as well, getting penalized for carrying several times throughout the match.
The only thing keeping the Lynx alive is freshman Herbin Berreondo, a Brighton boy who becomes an absolute stonewall at the net:
Four blocks help cut Lasell’s lead to 13-11, but Lesley gets no closer. The Lasers score the last 12 points – two on aces by sophomore Vicenty Ithier – and win 25-11.
Meanwhile, a decent number of pretty vocal fans have turned out for this game despite the weeknight and the drizzle, and more trickle into the balcony as the game goes on. The fans know the players by first name, they have a sense of momentum and an appreciation for the truly great plays, and they shout early and often. Lots of families come to support their kids (three-quarters of the two rosters are from Massachusetts, New Hampshire or Connecticut), even on road games.
“We went up to Nashua Tuesday night [for Lasell's road game against Daniel Websiter College], and there were five families represented,” says Chris Raffol, mother of Lasell freshman Dan Raffol of Natick.
And if you think only D-I schools get shirtless dudes wearing body paint, clearly you haven’t met Chris Martinez, a freshman communications major from Medford supporting floor-mate Dave Farwell.
When I ask if Lesley-Lasell is much of a rivalry, Martinez says no. A girl sitting at the scorer’s table looks back at me, smiles and knowingly shakes her head “no.” A glance at my program confirms this: Lasell has beaten Lesley all five times they’ve played, starting in 2006.
“Maybe if they faced Mount Ida [College],” Martinez says. Lasell sports information director Todd Montana also says Lasell-Mount Ida is the big rivalry, especially in men’s lacrosse.
Should I be surprised lacrosse is so popular in Newton?
Watching a not-overly stressful but definitely entertaining match, I wonder why volleyball hasn’t taken off in America. The players look fantastic (and again, I’m talkin’ men and women), and they play an explosive sport. Diving, hitting, blocking, jump-serving – volleyball has way more action than tennis, soccer, hockey, even some baseball games.
All of that explosiveness trickles all the way down from the Olympics to Thursday’s Lasers-Lynx game, where Laser junior Alex Mill throws down some pretty big spikes, especially in the third game:
Mill scores five kills in the third game, including three in an initial 10-2 run that almost immediately puts the game out of reach. Mill and Raffol finish the night tied with eight kills apiece, but with the match on the line it’s Dione who clinches the victory:
The Lasers win the final game 25-13. They sweep the Lynx in three games for their second win of the season, both at home.
I leave Lasell in good spirits, having gotten everything I wanted: a terrific game in a non-traditional sport, played between schools too small to get on ESPN’s radar but still filled with fans who care, who see the value of school spirit. I didn’t see any fights in the stands – “Volleyball, you don’t get too rowdy,” Farwell’s father Mike says – but that’s o.k.
The Lasers prefer to do their shining on the court.
Matt Goisman is going to write about a game each and every week from America’s #1 city for sports: Here. We’re calling it 52 Games, because that’s what we’re going to end up with. Last week, he spent a night at TD Garden covering the 60th Annual Beanpot hockey tournament. This week, Goisman caught some D-III volleyball at Lasell College in Auburndale. Next week: UFC Night at Spirit Bar in Cambridge. Keep up with him here.