Shaler grad Stephen Borgen helps Thiel men’s volleyball capture AMCC title |
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Shaler grad Stephen Borgen helps Thiel men’s volleyball capture AMCC title

Thiel Athletics
Shaler grad Stephen Borgen (center) had 40 assists as the Thiel men’s volleyball team captured the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference title with a 3-1 win over No. 1 seed Wittenberg.

During its decade in the Continental Volleyball Conference, the Thiel men’s team appeared in the championship match four times. The Tomcats lost them all.

This spring was Thiel’s first in the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference, where it joined Geneva, Wittenberg and Hiram as affiliate members. Those additions enabled the AMCC to conduct a men’s volleyball tournament for the first time, and Thiel broke through to become its first champion.

One of the catalysts behind the title run was sophomore setter Stephen Borgen. The Shaler grad had a combined 88 assists across the AMCC semifinals (3-2 over second-seeded Geneva) and title match (3-1 over top-seeded Wittenberg).

He added 14 digs in the win over Geneva.

“We had some optimism that we could make almost a new life in the new conference,” Borgen said.

When Borgen arrived at Thiel as a freshman, coach Adam Roche put him in the mix right away. Roche had a young roster and was willing to let his players get on-the-job training to build toward this season.

Winning the AMCC title was the goal from the outset, and Roche knew Borgen would be an important cog.

“He got thrown into the role and ran with it,” Roche said. “He was fortunate to be on a good high school team and a good club team, so he got to see some higher level ball. I knew he could take control of the reins.

“I knew he was going to falter and make some bad decisions, but I also knew he was going to grow from them.”

Decision-making — knowing whom to set, when and in what spots — was one of the adjustments Borgen had to make. The other was the speed of the game: getting sets to the hitters more quickly than he did in high school.

“I picked it up pretty quickly,” he said. “My teammates made it pretty easy on me. I rely on my team a lot because in volleyball, it’s not about one player. It’s about everyone on the team working together.”

After averaging 8.63 assists per set and ranking seventh in the CVC as a freshman, Borgen led the AMCC at 9.57 assists.

He credited part of his smooth adjustment to working with former Shaler teammate Jake Dadowski, the Titans’ middle hitter and one of Borgen’s best friends. In high school, the two often would practice quick sets and hits in the middle.

The benefits of all those reps showed up in the AMCC title match, when Borgen’s precise sets helped Tomcats middle Jacob Burkley go 11 for 11 on kill attempts. Borgen was in sync with all his hitters that day as Thiel outhit Wittenburg, .315 to .190.

“We came into the game and just wanted to stay focused and keep our energy the same,” Borgen said. “We knew they were the home team and were going to have the home crowd and were going to have a lot more energy.

“If they got a big kill, we wanted to side out right away and get a big kill right back.”

The only down side was the AMCC title did not result in an automatic berth in the NCAA Division III Tournament. Once a conference attains the required number of teams to be eligible for an automatic bid, which the AMCC did this season, there is a two-year waiting period before the conference tournament winner can qualify for NCAAs.

The good news is the AMCC will be eligible in 2021, Borgen’s senior season, and he relishes the chance to help build what he hopes will be a successful program for years to come.

“It would be kind of nice to create a pedigree that Thiel would be known for having a good volleyball team,” he said. “If (someone is) a good player, they’re going to want to go to a championship team.”

Chuck Curti is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chuck by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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