For some, club sports are a way to continue what they loved in high school. For others, it’s a way to try something they had not thought of trying before. However, for the Marist Men’s Volleyball team, one of the many club teams at Marist, the story is different. What started as a small club sport has turned into a nationally recognized organization taking their love for the sport and pushing themselves to achieve new heights.
Captains Marc Hopper, Dan Kelerchian, Eli Flagg, and Coach Rich Kelly lead the 19-player squad, which has been going full speed since the beginning of the fall semester. After a few preseason tournaments, the team opened their 2018 season with a tournament in New Haven, Conn., where they successfully defeated each of the six other teams.
After finishing with a regular season record of 11-1, the team qualified for the National Tournament in St. Louis. Nationally ranked number 15 in West Club Division II out of nearly 200 teams, they also sit in first place in second division of the New England Collegiate Volleyball League.
But how has a small club team that had 10 to 11 members in prior seasons become a national powerhouse? The key has been consistent improvement over the past few years, including the addition of Coach Kelly two years ago and his focus on building the program.
“I’ve taken a team that had a lot fewer guys and expanded, so we have nine sophomores that have been working together for the last two years,” Kelly said. “We have a big incoming freshman class. There’s about seven of those guys that have been working together as well, so when we take that we are able to go for the next four years of consistency of everyone on the court and team unity that everyone is able to play together.”
With the expansion of the team comes the issue of team dynamic which can become a make-or-break point for many programs. The work ethic combined with the chemistry of the team has added to its success both on and off the court, especially when it comes to community involvement.
“We are making sure we are fit for the tournaments, and then we’ll rely on the past 10 tournaments,” Kelly said. “We have been playing with the team unity and chemistry to be able to perform at those levels.”
Despite recent success and a young squad, the team still faces the challenges that come from being a club team rather than an NCAA varsity team. The main issue is the fight for gym time. Practicing year-round and scheduling home tournaments continues to raise difficulties. The team looks for gym time alongside the other 12 club teams in between the already-scheduled varsity and intramural athletics events.
The team also struggles with funding from the school to cover the cost of tournament fees, equipment and travel expenses.
“There’s always a funding issue and things like that,” Kelly said. “However on a club level for volleyball, we’re just as competitive as some of the Division [III varsity squads].”
Because the Marist Athletic Department does little to help club teams, the members of the volleyball program have taken promotional and fundraising matters into their own hands.
“We’ve reached out and expanded through Dan [Kelercian’s] help and a bunch of other people on the team, our social media,” Kelly said. “We are actually now able to recruit a little more, more reaching out to incoming freshmen and potential transfers that come through the school, now that they know that Marist has a program.”
Regardless of these off-the-court matters, Marist’s Men’s Volleyball continues to fight and prove themselves on the court.
“We do show that we are competitive going forward,” Kelly said.
The team is scheduled to compete in the league championship on April 7 and 8 at the University of New Hampshire and the National Tournament beginning April 11 in St. Louis.