Photo by Morgan Grana.
Photo by Morgan Grana.

Colonel Robert Green Ingersoll once said, “The greatest test of courage on earth is to bear defeat without losing heart.”

Last Saturday, the D-III men’s volleyball team ended their season with a second-place finish in the 2010 Molten D-III Men’s Invitational Volleyball Championship, which was hosted this year by Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

“We got runner-up plaques and I know a lot of us were thinking about leaving them behind,” second-year outside hitter Austin Kress said. “We all decided to keep them and hang them up right over our beds. I mean, we’re proud of the second place, but seeing that everyday is motivation to go to the gym and do anything and everything to get ourselves a national championship next year.”

For head coach Jonah Carson, the season was hugely impressive despite the final loss.

“Winning a championship is a way to define success,” Carson said, “but the team improving and building lasting relationships are other ways to define it. It was a family dynamic this season and we all succeeded.”

After posting an impressive 15-6 record during the regular season, with four of the losses coming against Division I opponents, the Banana Slugs were granted the number one seed in last weekend’s tournament.

Several individual Slugs were showered with accolades for the team’s success in D-III. Fourth-years Austin Einhorn, Brad Sullivan, Justin Lam and Eric Rowell were all chosen as First Team All-Americans and freshman Salvatore La Cavera III was chosen as a Second Team All-American and as D-III Men’s Newcomer of the Year.

“It was kind of a surprise this year that we even got this many All-Americans,” middle hitter Einhorn said. “In past years we never got this much respect.”

Einhorn said that most of the strong programs in D-III men’s volleyball are located on the East Coast, making it difficult for a California team to get noticed nationally.

“Not many schools get to watch us, so we’re not really on a lot of people’s radar,” Einhorn said. “When they see us play, it’s a reality check.”

Since taking over, head coach Carson has led the Slugs to four Molten Division III Men’s Invitational Volleyball Championships over his six year tenure. This year was their third straight.

“I have a real sense of pride in the program,” Carson said, “And a real sense of pride in the guys in the program.”

It won’t be easy to win the title next year, though. The Slugs will lose Sullivan, Lam and Rowell, three First Team All-Americans, leaving some big shoes for incoming recruits to fill.

Still, Kress is confident that the returning stars and younger players will make the Slugs a force next year.

“Everyone is going to think that we are not going to be as great, but we are planning on having the same type of season we did this year.”

“Coach always talks about everyone having a common goal and if everyone knows it, they’ll all work towards achieving that goal,” Einhorn said. “Everyone’s primary goal is winning this national championship.”

The reality of college athletics today is that there is no off-season; to be competitive, players must constantly go to the gym and practice their craft. Being so close to achieving their goal could be demoralizing, but with their coaching staff and a strong core of returning players, expect the Slugs to bear their defeat against Springfield without losing heart.

“We’re going to relax this week,” Kress said, “but as of next week, it’s back to work.”