2023 NAIA Men’s Volleyball Championship Recap
DES MOINES, Iowa – [RESULTS | BRACKET] The Vanguard (Calif.) Lions won the 2023 battle for the red banner after a 3-2 (20-25, 23-25, 25-22, 25-22, 15-11) win over Benedictine Mesa (Ariz.) at the MidAmerican Energy RecPlex on Saturday night.
The season opened and ended with Benedictine Mesa (Ariz.) and Vanguard (Calif.) together on the court.
On January 27 the teams opened the season against each other in Mesa where the Redhawks were victorious in capturing the first win of the season in four sets. The next day, The Lions got a second chance at Benedictine Mesa and evened the score with a four-set win of their own.
The teams met for a third time during the regular season on February 10. This time in California on Vanguard’s home court where BenU took a commanding lead in the match from the start. The Redhawks started things off with a 25-8 set one win and proceeded to win the match in three sets. With the win, BenU held the lead on the season series 2-1.
Little did they know that after playing each other three times at the start of the season, two months later they would face each other once again for a chance to win the battle for the red banner.
The teams went their separate ways as they worked their way through the regular season in order to put themselves in a position to win a bid to the national tournament. Both Vanguard and Benedictine Mesa were ranked at No. 1 for two ratings apiece and were rated inside the Top 5 when they were not ranked at No. 1.
The Redhawks only other loss on the season was to The Master’s (Calif.) before closing out the regular season. BenU advance to the California Pacific Conference tournament where they won the title match and earned an automatic bid to the national tournament.
The Lions only other NAIA losses came at the hands of Arizona Christian followed by The Master’s in the championship match of the Golden State Athletic Conference tournament. With the loss in the conference tournament championship, VU earned its way to the national tournament with an at-large bid.
The teams made their way through the tournament and won their respective pools and semifinal matches before meeting in the championship match. Vanguard advanced to the championship match for the first time while Benedictine Mesa advanced for the fourth consecutive year.
The teams battled for control of the opening set but after 11 all, Benedictine Mesa went on an 8-2 scoring run that gave the Redhawks the space to close out the set 25-20.
BenU captured the lead at the start of set two before Vanguard closed the gap and tied the score at nine points. The teams traded points back and forth until a 5-2 scoring run put the Redhawks back in the lead by four points at 23-19. The Lions made a final push to close the gap with a 4-1 scoring run but Benedictine Mesa closed the two points they needed to win set two 25-23.
Up two sets to none, the Redhawks looked to close out the match in three sets but VU took the early lead at 11-6 to start things off. BenU worked its way back to a tie score after a 6-1 scoring run. The teams traded punches until after a Vanguard time-out at 21-22 which prompted a kill off the hand of Kyle Anema that sparked a four-point run and pushed VU over the edge for its first set win of the match 25-22.
The teams battled for control of the fourth set until the Lions found their footing and landed a 9-3 scoring run at 13 all for a six-point lead. After a time-out from BenU, the Redhawks attempted a comeback with a 6-2 scoring run but fell just short as Will Anderson and Cody Watts landed the final point of the set on a double block. With Vanguard’s win in the fourth set, the Lions tied the set score and sent the match to a deciding fifth set.
The battle continued into the fifth set with four lead changes before Vanguard landed a 6-2 scoring run at nine all which sealed the deciding set 15-11.
Kyle Anema of Vanguard led all scorers with 23 kills in the match. His teammate, Will Anderson, followed with 20 kills of his own.
Two players recorded double-digit digs in Landon Fuller of BenU with 12 digs in the match and Ryan Jew of Vanguard with 11 digs in the match.
Nolan Flexen, The Master’s (Calif.)
Dapre Rogers, Benedictine Mesa (Ariz.)
Daxton Tolman, Benedictine Mesa (Ariz.)
Landon Fuller, Benedictine Mesa (Ariz.)
Will Anderson, Vanguard (Calif.)
Tournament MVP – Kyle Anema, Vanguard (Calif.)
Tournament Coach of the Year: Brian Rofer, Vanguard (Calif.)
Sportsman of the Year – Eric Villar Cordero, Grand View (Iowa)