Spike Club: UVU men's volleyball a force on the club level

2010-01-26T00:15:00Z Spike Club: UVU men's volleyball a force on the club levelNeil K. Warner - Daily Herald Daily Herald
January 26, 2010 12:15 am  • 

They are not on scholarship. There are no book vouchers, no tuition waivers.

A walk-on status would be nice with the hope that they could earn a scholarship down the road, but that's not even a possibility.

But the 40 some guys at Utah Valley University who make up the "A," "B" and "C" club teams won't give up on their dream of playing college volleyball. These guys have to pay to play.

In fact, if you know someone who would like to help out, they are looking for sponsors to help.

Player fees run about $500 for the season.

Men's volleyball at Utah Valley University is a club sport. In other words, it is not NCAA funded.

"We don't get money directly, but we do through service projects, and UVU will donate gym time," said UVU men's coach Michael Daniel, who is in his first season has head coach. "The women's volleyball coach (Sam Atoa) has been very nice to us. Don't think we could have done it without his help."

But money, or the lack of it, does not stop this group. There are tournaments to play in, national club championships to win, a program to run.

"The previous coaches, Dave and Lori Richards, did a great job. The team was very refined. The transition was minimal," Daniel said. "There has been no real drastic changes, we've just tried to fine-tune things that previous coaches have done and introduced a few things that hopefully will take us to the next level."

Men's volleyball started at UVU in 1993 and became competitive immediately. The Wolverines did not lose a tournament in the region in 1994. After taking first place in a regional tournament held at Utah State, they went to Arizona State University for the National Collegiate Club Nationals (Division II). They represented UVU well for the first time on the national level by taking second place.

The highlight of the program's history came in 2001, when the Wolverines won the Division I national championship in 2001 and since then they have continued to be a presence.

In 2007, UVU came in with a ranking of No. 34 in the nation among the 158 men's teams. Utah Valley finished fifth.

Then in 2008, UVU put it all together. The experience the Wolverines had gained from the previous year, coupled with a boost of confidence, helped UVU string together wins over UNLV and Arizona, then beat Arizona State in the finals to win the Mountain West Volleyball Championship.

This year appears to be another banner year. UVU won its own 16-team tournament over the weekend.

UVU went 5-1 and beat the Utah Valley Alumni team in the championship.

"It's the first time we've beat them in numerous years," Daniel said. "They have former BYU national championship players and former national players on their team, so its a verge big accomplishment."

It's an accomplishment for the guys to balance school with work and practice time. The volleyball team must take court time when it can get it. That means practices begin at 5:30 a.m. and run until 8 a.m. three days a week.

For guys like Andrew Richards, UVU's club program gives him a chance to play. Richards is the son of Dave and Lori Richards. He watched his sisters Kristin (Stanford) and Lauren (BYU) play at the top college level, but as a Utah resident he never had a chance to play on a high school team.

"It's a great opportunity for UVU to have a club program," he said. "Growing up in Utah, I didn't have the same opportunities as kids from California or Florida do. It's nice to know that after all the city leagues, there is still an opportunity to play on a nationally ranked team."

Another player UVU's club team is giving an opportunity to is Daniel Wright, a transfer from BYU. Perhaps on loan would be more accurate. He plans on graduating from BYU in fall, but opted to move to UVU for playing time.

"I just wanted a shot at playing and competing in matches," Wright said. "It would have been a long shot for me to get some court time at BYU."

Wright, a senior, will go back to BYU to graduate, but he couldn't pass up the chance to play before he shifts his focus to his career.

UVU's program takes, but it also gives. Joe Hillman played for UVU's club team before moving on to play at BYU, where he was part of BYU's 2004 national championship team.

The success of UVU's club team naturally begs the question: When will UVU add it to its current roster of NCAA sanctioned sports, if ever?

"Most club sports leaders want us to transition them," said UVU athletic director Mike Jacobsen. "What we did when we transitioned to the NCAA is we had to have 14 sports. We tried to put the best 14 sports in community and in the region. Wrestling was one of them. It's unique, because it's the only wrestling program in the state. We added indoor and outdoor track and programs that we felt like would help us get into a conference."

Jacobsen said no additional sports will be added until funding for the current sports can be increased. Funding for the sports is hard enough, adding another mouth to feed isn't realistic, not in these times of financial belt tightening.

"There's just not the funding to do it," Jacobsen said. "None of our programs are fully funded. Until they are funded, I don't think it would be wise to bring in another program."

Until funding changes, the club program will continue to thrive with the hope that someday, as UVU's athletic department grows, adding volleyball will happen.

"Men's volleyball in a lot ways would be good. Maybe BYU would finally come to our place to play, but it's an expensive sport," Jacobsen said. "It would take about a half million a year to do it right."

Following its tournament last weekend, UVU will now finish the season on the road with a series of tournaments until ending up with the Mountain West Volleyball Conference tournament on Feb. 26-27 at the University of Utah.

David Evans, a junior, moved to Utah from California. He went to BYU two years with the idea that he would try out for BYU's volleyball team. He never did.

But instead of giving up on his desire to play, he opted to transfer to UVU so he could play on its club team.

Why not?

"I've had a great time doing it. At first wasn't so sure about it, but I'm really enjoying it. It turned out to be a lot easier than I thought it would be. I Just had to find certain classes that transferred between both," Evans said. "All the guys have been great, and it's been a good experience so far. I'm having a great time."

UVU's club team is giving players a chance to play on, even if it's not on an athletic scholarship. Even if he has to pay to play.

A price cannot always be put on opportunity.

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