There’s something special about the national title that the Benedictine University Mesa men’s volleyball team brought home from Iowa last week. The NAIA championship was home-grown.
On the final point of the championship match against No. 6 Aquinas College of Michigan, Jason Jones made the set that enabled his 6’6″ sophomore teammate, Treven Clizbe, to slam home the game winner. Jones is a senior from Marcos de Niza High School in Tempe who finished the night with a team-high 37 assists..
The players who provided the leading number of kills for BenU in that match were Devin Hill and Bobby Henige, each contributing 11. Hill is a senior middle blocker from Cienega High School in Tucson. Henige is a junior outside hitter from Cactus High School in Glendale.
Jesus Izaguirre took care of business from the back row where he pitched in 20 digs. Izaguirre is a senior libero from Carl Hayden High School in Phoenix.
The tournament’s MVP award went to Logan Adcock who capped off his performance over the five matches of the tournament by posting 10 kills in the title match. The senior outside hitter was recruited from Desert Vista High School in Phoenix.
Henige and Jones were named to the All-Tournament Team.
Henige and Clizbe led a defense that was ranked second in blocks-per-set in the NAIA, with both ranked in the top 10 nationally during the regular season. And Jones played at the top of a multi-faceted offense that featured four players averaging over two kills a set, led by Adcock, who averaged 3.27 kills per set.
And, just to cap off the honors this season, Aaron Ritchey was given the Sportsman of the Year award. The senior is from Barry Goldwater High School in Phoenix
The Redhawks took three straight sets (25-22, 25-20, 25-14) from Aquinas to secure the young school’s first national championship. BenU was started in 2013 when the Catholic University, based in Illinois, added a branch campus in downtown Mesa. It opened with an inaugural enrollment just under 100 students.
BenU takes advantage of a deep pool of local talent just outside its doors. Fifteen players on the 21-man roster are from Arizona high schools.
Steve Crook was hired in 2014 to launch a men’s volleyball program at BenU, one of eight men’s and women’s teams included in the early offerings, and last year it was turned over to Ray Lewis, who had been an assistant on the Redhawks coaching staff. His first season as head coach, the program finished with a 21-9 record and was ranked No. 2 nationally at season’s end.
That 2018 team earned the school’s first-ever NAIA Tournament berth and finished runner-up.
Last year, the Redhawks got their ticket to the tourney through an at-large bid. This year, they earned an automatic bid by winning the Golden State Athletic Conference championship. They finished the regular season as the No. 2-ranked team in the NAIA.
Coach Lewis is from Nevada, but has laid down roots in Arizona. He also coaches the boys’ volleyball team at Mesa High School and assists with the Arizona Sizzle, the state’s entrant in the new National Volleyball Association.
After last season’s runner-up finish in the NAIA Tournament, this year’s motivational theme was all about “unfinished business.”
Next year, after losses to a roster heavy with veterans, they will have to regroup and look for a new slogan to keep them focused.
How about “repeat business?”
(Photo: BenU Athletics)