Men’s college volleyball: Carthage wins 12th straight, up to No. 3 in national rankings | college

The Carthage men’s volleyball team is rolling now, and the defending NCAA Division III national champion Firebirds appear to be on track to reach all their lofty goals as the calendar approaches April and postseason play.

With a non-conference sweep of Fontbonne (Mo.), by scores of 25-16, 25-17, 25-17, at Tarble Arena on Friday night, Carthage picked up its 12th straight win. The Firebirds dropped their first three matches of the season after beginning the year ranked No. 1 in the NCAA Division III preseason coaches poll, but they’re now 12-3 and this week were back up to No. 3 in the coaches poll, their highest in-season ranking of the season.

Carthage hosts Augustana on Wednesday night, as the Firebirds continue their second rotation through College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin play. At 7-0 in the CCIW with five conference matches left, Carthage holds a lead of 1.5 games over North Central (5-1 CCIW) and 2.5 games over Loras (4-2 CCIW) for first place.

Before Friday’s win over Fontbonne, Carthage notched a big four-set victory over Loras in Dubuque, Iowa, last Wednesday night, rallying for a 22-25, 25-20, 25-14, 25-17 victory after dropping the first set.

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In Friday’s sweep of Fontbonne, Carthage coach JW Kieckhefer was pleased that the Firebirds played a complete match.

“Really an impressive win on our side of the net with our consistency,” Kieckhefer told John Weiser in a postgame interview posted on Carthage’s website. “I think we’ve been searching for that all season long, is putting three full sets together, not just one and then a lull, or one and two and then a lull in three.

“So I was really, really impressed by our offensive consistency, our serve-receive consistency, but also our defensive consistency and our defensive effort the entire match.”

“… When we’re able to put that level of volleyball together, it’s really tough from the other side of the net to perform and want to keep playing.”

Carthage hit a remarkable .613 in Friday’s match, as junior middle blocker Zach Bulthuis (13), junior outside hitter Carter Schmidt (12) and senior outside hitter Matt Slivinski (eight) led the Firebirds in kills. Slivinski also had four aces, two blocks and six digs, senior outside hitter Peyton Wieter and sophomore middle blocker David Markes notched three blocks each, sophomore setter Gene McNulty tallied 33 assists and senior libero Kyle Cohan had nine digs.

After wrapping up the regular season by hosting Loras on April 2, Carthage will compete in the CCIW Championships from April 6-9.

The Firebirds will then have a chance to possibly defend their national title at home, as Carthage will play host to the NCAA Division III Final Four and National Championship from April 22-23 at Tarble Arena.

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