DALLAS TWP. — Ryan Miller came to Misericordia to create a legacy.
The Mullica Hill, N.J., native was head men’s volleyball coach Rob Wingert’s very first commit. Miller knew joining a first-year program would be a challenge.
But it was a challenge he wanted to be a part of.
Miller and his teammates started the legacy on Friday against Neumann, opening the 2018 Cougar Kickoff Classic with a bang. The Cougars were in control throughout the match, with Miller, Caleb Bauder and Bailey Brugler at the forefront, en route to their first-ever win in their first-ever match.
Misericordia took down fellow start-up program Neumann in three sets, 25-17, 25-18, 25-17.
The Cougars would go on to be swept by Penn State-Altoona in their nightcap, 25-14, 25-13, 25-15.
“This is a very special moment for our whole team and this school. We’re starting a new program here and we’re starting something special,” Miller said. “We started off in the right way. Couldn’t have went any better. We could have played better, but that’s stuff we have to work on in the future.
“We came out, we played hard and we got the win. That’s all that matters.”
After cruising in the first set, Misericordia faced some adversity during the second frame.
The Cougars had built a 10-8 lead, but the Knights came roaring back. Neumann registered five straight points to take a 13-10 advantage, forcing Wingert to take his first timeout of the match.
“Magic comes out of his mouth sometimes,” Miller said of Wingert’s talk at the break. “We were just playing scrappy. He told us to get our stuff together. Our passes, free balls have to go to the setter. They’re called free balls for a reason, so we have to get them down. We have to be more aware of where our blockers are and what kind of hits we’re calling for. We had a few mess-ups there. We had a few bad hits and blocks and it was showing.
“He called a timeout to stop the tempo, get us together, hopefully ice the server and get us back on the right track.”
Wingert’s “magic” pep talk did the trick as the Cougars roared back to outscore Neumann 15-8 the rest of the set. In fact, the Knights’ 14-13 second-set advantage was the last time they would lead the rest of the match.
Misericordia jumped out 11-1 in the third set, putting Neumann in a hole it couldn’t dig out of.
“I knew the first set was going to be shaky, and there was going to be a lot of sloppy play,” Wingert said. “The main thing we wanted to do during the first set was let the guys learn some lessons on their own, and in the second set we could kind of see they weren’t responding the way we wanted them to.
“So we brought them in just to talk to them — just how to respond to those situations and make adjustments on the fly. And they responded great out of the timeout, which is all you can ask for of your team.”
For the Cougars, the first set was about building some early offensive momentum and getting rid of the first-game jitters.
They were able to do both.
Playing in front of a packed gym, Misericordia did its damage early and pulled away for good after taking a 7-6 lead. Bauder was a force early on, getting involved in four of his team’s 14 points as the Cougars started to pull away.
Miller finished with a match-high 16 kills, three aces and two blocks, while Bauder led the team in aces (four) and added nine kills. Brugler led the Cougars in both assists (25) and digs (five) and added three kills against Neumann.
“It’s important to set the tone for the offense because it sets the tone for the whole game. If you don’t come out with a lot of energy, then the whole game is going to go like that,” Bauder said. “Offense is a big part of the game, and we have many offensive weapons. It’s just about putting it together. There were plenty of nerves in the first set, but we got rid of them, and then we just kept playing. It’s just a matter of getting into that groove and then just keep playing like that.”
With win No. 1 behind them, the Cougars will be able to build some momentum throughout the rest of the Classic, which ends with a doubleheader against Hiram (11 a.m.) and St. Elizabeth (3 p.m.) on Saturday.
Because even though this is their first season, they’re ready to do damage.
“We’re ready to keep going forward,” Miller said. “We did it sloppy. (Our win) wasn’t the prettiest thing, but it came together in the end, and now we know what we have to do going forward. We’re ready to take on the challenges as they come.”
Reach DJ Eberle at 570-991-6398 or on Twitter @ByDJEberle