Photo by Maddie Schroeder
In 2013, the Ohio University women’s club volleyball team won a Division IAA National Tournament title at the National Collegiate Volleyball Federation Championships in Dallas, Texas. Since that monumental win, the subsequent squads have come to expect that their members will carry on the team’s winning reputation.
“I don’t particularly appreciate living in the past,” team president and junior outside hitter Rachel Teed says, “but I know why the girls like to reflect on years past: we were incredibly successful.”
The 2015-16 team set the bar high for this year’s squad after a Gold Bracket finish in Division IA in NCVF Championships in Kansas City, Missouri. Despite facing a few challenges with membership and scheduling that often come along with the structure of club sports, the 2016-17 squad hopes to repeat the pattern of success during this year’s tournament when it returns to Kansas City for the 2017 NCVF Championships.
“Every year is different,” Teed says. “We won’t know who we will recruit, who will quit and who will improve throughout the year.”
Ohio club sports offer student athletes a flexible alternative to the year-round demands of varsity athletics. Club teams are less competitive and, unlike varsity athletics, there aren’t binding incentives to keep members on the team such as scholarships or NCAA guidelines.
“The commitment to the team is really what you make of it,” senior middle blocker Haley Dake says. “We practice twice a week for two hours and compete in three tournaments per semester. There have been girls who have had to leave the team due to conflicts with school, but there are usually people who have demanding majors like nursing or engineering.”
Most club sport athletes juggle classes, work and other extracurricular activities with practice and weekend tournaments, and for some, the best option is to take a semester off. The club volleyball team faced that issue this year when the initial president for the 2016-17 season, Emilie Kipp, accepted an internship for spring semester. Because club level teams do not require coaches, the president takes on the role of a coach if needed. Teed was originally voted vice president for 2016-17, and although the team considered all options to fill the leadership void, Teed was the leader they agreed upon.
“Now I stand as the president of the club, and I think it is more of an accomplishment, at least more than I had intended for this year,” Teed says, “but I am extremely happy with it.”
Changes in leadership are rare but not unheard of for the club volleyball team. The team has even had members of the Ohio varsity volleyball team transition to the club level to maintain a less demanding schedule while continuing to play the sport they love.
“Obviously, club is a little bit more relaxed, which was a nice change of pace for me,” Hannah Burkle, a 2016 graduate, middle blocker and outside hitter, says. “I went from practicing and playing every single day non-stop to only a couple practices a week and not as much travel, which was the perfect amount so I could still focus on finishing up school.”
Burkle joined the Ohio volleyball team in 2012 and was a member of the Mid-American Conference regular season championship team during her three years on the squad. Burkle posted a career high of 183 kills and 431 total attacks in 2014. Although her eligibility ended for the varsity team, Burkle opted to continue her education at Ohio for a fifth year and try out for the club volleyball team to continue playing while she finished her classes.
“It took some time to get used to the fact that my life didn’t revolve around my hectic schedule anymore, which I was fine with,” Burkle says. “I think club gave me a lot more freedom to do whatever I wanted with my time compared to varsity, it was all volleyball all the time with some classes thrown in there.”
That leaves the president and other executive members in charge of scheduling and checking in with each player throughout the season.
“In college volleyball without a coach, it’s hard to find things to motivate the girls to have the ultimate drive to win,” Teed says. “Everyone of course wants to win, but when the girls are loud and show it on the court, that’s when we do our best.”
As the club volleyball team prepares for nationals, its competitive mindset becomes imperative to experiencing success, especially with the results the squad has been able to produce in years past.
More than 400 teams from around the country compete at the NCVF Championships. The tournament is broken into three divisions and split between women’s and men’s volleyball. The NCVF also ranks teams in each division based on that year’s tournament results. Ohio was listed in the top 25 in both 2015 and 2016 and may make a run at this year’s rankings after beating 15 squads in a tournament at University of Dayton on Feb. 25.
“I think that victory leads to wanting to win as a team and encouraging one another,” Teed says. “I have seen this firsthand and it’s really exciting to watch and be a part of.”
With a recent tournament win and a hunger for more, the women’s club volleyball team is looking to make big strides during the weeks that lead to nationals.
Despite adversity in leadership roles, balancing challenging schedules and changes in personnel, the squad hopes to continue the winning trend.
“I want to do the best that we can do to our full potential,” Teed says, “and if that is winning silver or bronze or even getting into gold and going far, I will be proud of our team, because nationals is a time to kick ass and be intense and I think that all of the girls know that.”