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A trio of Firebirds helped the Carthage College Men’s Volleyball team make their first step towards defending last year’s national championship. Matt Slivinski, Andrew Otto, and David Markes all posted double-digit kills in the team’s 3-0 sweep of North Park in the semifinals of the CCIW conference tournament on April 6 at Tarble Arena. 

“We grinded. I told the team in the locker room that great teams can win ugly,” head coach JW Kieckhefer said of the win. “I think this was an ugly win for us, but we are in the playoffs. Who cares how you win, and we won.”

In the first set, North Park took a 13-10 lead before Slivinski used back-to-back aces to tie the set. With the first set going back and forth, Slivinski added two more aces to notch a 26-24 first set victory.

“They came out with a lot of energy and that kind of stuns you when you are playing at home,” senior Matt Slivinski said. “We just needed to find our groove and it came at the end of that first set. I ended it with two aces, and I was not going to lose that set.”

Otto was huge for the Firebirds in set two as he notched seven kills in a second set that saw seven ties. After a Markes kill to tie the set at 17, Otto responded with kills on four of the Firebirds’ last seven points to win the second set 25-21. 

“That is part of our offense is getting that middle bit going and we told Gene (McNulty) get Andrew (Otto) the ball and get him going because he is hitting it and scoring it,” Kieckhefer said of Otto’s run in the second set. “We got it there and he (McNulty) located the ball and got him going.”

In the final set, Carthage gained the momentum with two separate four-point runs that included three kills from Markes and two aces from Slivinski to grab a 17-11 lead. North Park cut the Firebirds’ lead to one before Carthage regained a four-point advantage with two more kills from Markes and one kill from Otto before Slivinski sealed the deal with a kill to get the 25-21 third set victory. 

Markes led the way with 14 kills, while Slivinski and Otto both had 11. Slivinski led the way at the service line with eight aces, while Kyle Cohan led in digs with seven. 

North Central College defeated Loras College in four sets in the other conference tournament matchups. Carthage took on the Cardinals at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Tarble Arena for the automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. Stay tuned for more coverage to come on that game.

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