Many students come to the Lerner Health and Wellness Center’s third floor courts to play a causal game of pick-up basketball. But for the men’s club volleyball team, it is the stage from which they hope to launch their bid at national success.
In a week the team will be in Kansas City, Mo. for the National Collegiate Club Volleyball Championship. And as the Colonials prepared to practice, they had to wait for students to shoot their last few hoops as workers scurried to set up the volleyball net.
“It’s hard to get motivated in the middle of HelWel. It’s easy to get motivated on the court at nationals,” head coach Daniel Davidson, who has been volunteering with the team since 2002, said.
Once Davidson and his squad step onto the court, the distractions of the runners on the track above or the churn of the step machines nearby fade from the team’s mind.
With their eyes set on national competition, practice is a fast-paced affair that builds in intensity with every reminder from Davidson on what is at stake. The kills become more powerful, the rallies grow longer and the calls between teammates escalate into a synchronized cacophony.
“We’re not as conditioned as an NCAA team. We’re not as athletic as an NCAA team. We’re certainly not as tall as a top NCAA team,” Davidson said. “But there’s no reason why we can’t have the focus, the drive, the intensity, the aggression and the desire to win that an NCAA team has.”
While this is GW’s fifth endeavor at nationals, – their last trip was in 2010 – two-thirds of the current roster have never competed in a national championship tournament. The team’s excitement as they prepare to attend is palpable to anyone watching from the sidelines.
The squad is eager to return to competition, having fallen to top-seeded Penn State in the semi-finals of last weekend’s Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association divisional championship, leaving with a third place title. While GW arrived hoping to capture their second Central Division II title in three years, the team came away content knowing they were the only team in the tournament to force the undefeated Nittany Lions into a third game.
“The whole time it was very close, and just toward the very end they pulled away,” senior Joe Verde, the club’s president, said. “It’s kind of upsetting, because I know that we if we had more practice time we could have won easily.”
The dearth of available places to practice was a struggle that plagued the team’s development throughout the season. With other club sports vying for the same spaces, the team was limited in its ability to grow as a cohesive unit. Since outside teams are not allowed to play in the Lerner Health and Wellness Center, GW was forced to travel for competitive scrimmages.
But as the weather warmed and several club sports began practicing outdoors, the opportunities to train increased and the team progressed. Additional practice time allowed the Colonials to not only improve their skills, but build a sense of camaraderie that is essential in competitive play.
The most successful club programs, Davidson said, create a culture of comradeship that betters how players behave and their level of dedication. The head coach wants his team to feel like “a brotherhood.”. Drawing a comparison between his team and an army, Davidson references how soldiers train together and get to know each other before going to battle, so they instinctually back each other up when under duress.
“That’s why [soldiers] always get in fights at bars; you fight one of them and 10 of them are right on you,” he said.
Davidson, who also volunteers with GW’s varsity volleyball program, knows that building the kind of culture he idealizes will be a long process.
“We have a bunch of fun together, and that’s a huge value of being on the team,” sophomore Kevin Weiss said.