“We’re looking for a top-five finish at nationals this year, which is a totally reasonable, reachable goal,” junior Tim Roche said of the men’s club volleyball team.
Its three practices a week seem to have paid off this year, vaulting the team to eighth place nationally and first place in the Big Ten Tournament for the first time in the team’s 15 year existence.
“Everyone was at their pinnacle at the Big Ten Tourney,” junior Duncan Hromadka said.
Michigan’s tournament title run included victories over Indiana – their archrival and the top-ranked team in the country – No. 21 Purdue and No. 25 Ohio State. They also had two men on the six-person first team All Big Ten Tournament roster.
This level of success is a far cry from the Wolverines of two years ago, when they were tied last in the nation (45th).
An improvement that massive in two years is especially impressive since the team handles all coaching, management and fundraising responsibilities themselves. They attribute the enhanced play to confidence in one another.
“We know what to expect from each other,” Hromadka said. “After three years working with each other, we can come from behind. Our game has come together as we’ve all become friends.”
Roche agreed: “The talent level is the same, but we have a better mental level. Now we know what it takes to win.”
They cite their annual Michigan State game as evidence of their turnaround.
“We used to lose every game,” Hromadka said. “For six years, we didn’t beat them once. But for the last two years, we’ve dominated them.”
“We really want to erase the ‘fairy sport’ label,” Roche said. “Volleyball isn’t taken seriously in Michigan, but in places like California, it’s a major sport.”
However, Midwest support for the sport has been on the rise. The Big Ten Tournament has been around for 10 years, and five Big Ten teams are currently in the top 25.
“We want more respect for Midwest volleyball programs,” Hromadka said. “This year there was phenomenal talent, and we’re hoping that helps our region gain respect around the nation.”
Said junior Scott Klier: “We also want to let people on campus know what we’re doing. We always recruit at Festifall, and we hope that interested guys check out our website and seek us out.”
They also have a B-team, which they describe as “a developmental team,” mostly comprised of in-state students who show interest in the sport, but don’t yet have the skill level to play for the A-team.
“Most of the guys on the A-team are juniors, so we want to make sure there is a next generation when we graduate.”
They’ve still got one more year though, and they’re looking to make the best of it.
“Next year is going to be a lot of the same, if not better,” Roche said. “We’re going to be driving all over the Midwest, living together in two houses on Greenwood again, and trying to add another Big Ten trophy next to the one already in the trophy case.”