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Senior Matt Slivinski helped the Carthage College Firebirds Men’s Volleyball team defend their national championship on April 23 in front of their home crowd. Slivinski had 18 kills in his final collegiate match as Carthage College won their second consecutive national championship in four sets (25-21, 25-22, 18-25, 25-22) over No. 1 ranked Springfield College

Home advantage gives special edge for Firebirds

“This one is more special, to do it in front of a home crowd and to do it this way against the number one team in the country and earn it. I am just so proud of this group,” Carthage head coach JW Kieckhefer said. “It is so impressive how we came together as a unit and through adversity, we didn’t blink.”

Slivinski called it a surreal experience to play in front of a home crowd in the championship-clinching match.

“Being able to have thousands of fans cheering us on definitely gave us an edge from the start against Springfield,” Slivinski said. “It is great to have that feeling winning it (the National Championship) once, but even better doing it again.”

Slivinski helped give Carthage an early advantage with two kills to give the Firebirds a 5-2 first set lead. The senior later added his third kill to increase the lead to 10-5 before Springfield tied the set at 12. 

“It was really about feeling the game and I was dealing with some stuff with my ankle prior to the game. As the game went on, I was just able to excel,” Slivinski said of his 18-kill performance.

Two kills from Zach Bulthuis and kills from Carter Schmidt and Slivinski helped push the lead to 20-14 later in the set. Springfield cut the Firebirds’ lead to one at 21-20 late in the set before Carthage used kills from Slivinski and David Markes to win set one 25-21. 

The Firebirds got three kills from Schmidt to help them gain an 11-8 advantage in set two before a Bulthuis kill extended the lead to 16-12. Carthage scored four of the last six points of set two to win set two 25-22. 

After both teams tied three separate times to start set three, Springfield used four kills including two from Jarrett Anderson to grab a 20-16 advantage. The Pride scored five of the last six points to win set three 25-18. 

“We just didn’t step up to that moment really well and handle that next serve. It kind of let them get on a run,” Kieckhefer said of the third set struggles. “Our offense just was poor as we didn’t handle the ball well in that third set in serve-receive. When we handle the ball, we are unstoppable.”

Final game stats

Slivinski played big in the final collegiate set of his career as he had six kills in the final set as the Firebirds and Pride were tied 10 different times in set four. The Firebirds scored five of the last eight points as Carthage won the final set 25-22. 

Carthage had a .283 attack percentage in the National Championship win including 50 kills. The Firebirds had 16 service errors in the loss and had 56 digs in the match.

Gene McNulty helped pace the Firebirds’ offense with 43 assists, while Schmidt had 11 kills. Bulthuis and Markes also had nine kills in the match, while Payton Wieter had 16 digs.

Carthage finishes its championship season with a 24-3 record after starting the season with three straight losses. Slivinski led the way in kills with 314 kills and 76 service aces, while senior Kyle Cohan led in digs with 237.

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