Goshen College men’s volleyball went into the Easter weekend facing a two-game series against Bethel University. 

The Maple Leafs crushed the Pilots 3-0 last Thursday night, with scores of 25-14, 25-17, and 25-21. They closed the first set on a 7-0 run, tallied a 9-0 run in set two and ended set three on a 7-2 tear for the sweep. 

Statistical leaders included Hasan Hadzic, a junior, who recorded 15 kills and a whopping five aces, along with Ishmail Bangura, a sophomore, who recorded 13 kills, and Igor Sapucaia, a freshman, who recorded 31 assists and a career-high 11 digs.

Going into Tuesday’s game, Goshen was rightfully confident. 

“If we can pass and serve aggressively,” said head coach Jeff Phillips before the game, “I think we do the better parts of the game better than they do, so as long as we can be consistent enough in those parts of the game, I think we have a good shot to win.”

But the game still came with some increased stakes. It was played on the other side of Highway 20, in Wiekamp Athletic Center. Speaking of, the all-sport Highway 20 Cup has metaphorically resided on Bethel’s shelves for all four years since its inception (Someone make a real cup that gets passed back and forth. Please). 

“I just got here and I just learned about the Bethel rivalry,” Sapucaia said, “and I already feel it … I already feel it as a freshman, and beating Bethel has always this special taste.”

Entering the game, Goshen was down 7.75-5.25 in the cup, which awards 16 points in total. Not particularly close, but already almost a point more than Goshen had ever recorded in the competition. 

The first set started as a back-and-forth, but Goshen’s six straight points, capped with three straight aces from Hasan Hadzic put the set out of reach. 

“At that point,” Hadzic said, “I wasn’t thinking about anything. At those points, usually the mind is empty, kind of. You’re not thinking about health, about anything, like you usually do. 

Hadzic recorded nine aces in total, his second-most on the season. With his powerful serves, he has often been among team leaders in aces throughout his time at Goshen, but the speed with which he serves makes them difficult to control. 

Last year, he recorded 22 aces, but 48 serving errors. This year, he is up to 66 aces, with 77 serving errors. This kind of increased efficiency and aggressiveness from the star player has played a significant role in Goshen’s current 12-12 record (after finishing last season 9-12).

The second set, won 25-22 by Bethel, ended in some controversy, with Goshen players arguing that Bethel was moving before the serve. The game was marked by officiating concerns from Goshen’s side; as captain of the court, Sapucaia was responsible for voicing those concerns.

He said that the team “joked that we were playing against Bethel and against the officials because they … didn’t really have a certain criteria for both sides.”

Notably, the official was seen engaging in conversation with the Bethel student section between matches, suggesting an established relationship.

Among the officiating questions, Bethel jumped out to an 8-3 advantage to start set three. For the first time in the season series, Bethel seemed to have the upper hand. Coach Phillips could be heard from the sidelines: “If you want to win, you better work hard. Let’s go.”

Unfortunately for Bethel, a familiar face was stepping up to serve: Hasan Hadzic. Goshen ripped nine consecutive points during this sequence, culminating in another three consecutive aces from Hadzic. The Leafs finished off the set 25-20, finally polishing off Bethel 25-19 in the fourth set.

“It feels pretty amazing,” Hadzic said. “I mean, the highway cup, we got the highway cup. It was a tough game today, we were pretty tired, it was a big struggle; [but] we went through it. At the end we won, 3-1, and it was a good game.”