Michigan and Michigan State don’t get along very well on football Saturdays.
But the Michigan men’s volleyball club team and the Spartans have found a way to work together.
Opening its season in the annual Michigan Classic later this month, the Wolverines will try to avenge last year’s tournament where the Wolverines went winless and the Spartans emerged undefeated. But the competitors are trying to achieve a goal that reaches farther than a tournament victory.
“The tournaments are very important to us,” said Michigan coach Ryan Casey, who is friends with Michigan State’s coach. “But the camaraderie within the sport is very good. We are all really trying to expand men’s volleyball in the state of Michigan.”
The need to gain more exposure for the sport arises because men’s volleyball is not a recognized varsity sport at the high school level in Michigan. In-state rivalries are therefore nearly non-existent.
“Rivalries really don’t develop because there are no high school teams in Michigan,” team president Wyman Khuu said. “Some of our guys just come in and pick it up here.”
But the cooperation between squads doesn’t mean Michigan is taking its upcoming tournament lightly.
Not only is the Michigan Classic an annual tradition for the Wolverines, but it’s also the season opener.
“We’re excited,” Khuu said. “Hosting our own tourney is the best. We roll out of bed and play our games in front of our friends and fans.”
Added freshman Mike Evertsberg: “It’s a cool feeling. It will definitely be a huge event, and hopefully we will get a lot of people out for it.”
The home crowd gives the team both a sense of comfort and the determination to give a strong performance.
“Our players are pure student-athletes who must dedicate their time and work extremely hard,” Casey said. “They are very dedicated to the team, and hopefully we make that dedication pay off.”
Said Khuu: “We practice three days a week, but we also work out on our own doing some lifting or running, – doing it our way.”
Hard work will be extremely important when the Wolverines meet the three-time defending “State of Michigan” champions, Michigan State. The Spartans also won the Midwest Intercollegiate Volleyball Association’s championship last season. The rivals’ mutual goals will go out the window when the Michigan Classic kicks off on Jan. 20.
“My individual goal is just to get better,” Khuu said. “But we want to do well as a team in the upcoming tournaments and eventually the Nationals in April.”
Even with Michigan State’s successful past, Michigan isn’t intimidated by the tournament.
“We may not have the most skill,” Evertsberg said. “But with hard work, we will definitely keep up with the best of them.”
And after the games this weekend, the two rivals will promote their mutual goal of exposing the sport of men’s volleyball to the masses.