Men’s volleyball legacy in need of reward

Nathan Dodge

With the UW Oshkosh men’s club volleyball season having just come to an end on Saturday, now is as good a time to ask the recurring question: has the historical success of the program made a strong enough case to be considered for an NCAA partnership?

Oshkosh has three men’s volleyball teams that travel across the midwest and occasionally across the nation to compete. Because they are a club sport, however, athletes have to either fundraise or pay out of pocket for even the simplest luxuries that NCAA athletes take for granted. These things include jerseys, travel, gear, shoes, buses, hotels and even food.

Last weekend, the club sent all three teams to the National Collegiate Club Volleyball Federation championships in St. Louis. The massive tournament was held at the America’s Center Convention Complex and Dome, which was previously home to the NFL’s St. Louis Rams. Oshkosh repeated as the only program in the United States to send three teams, which alone shows how deep the talent in the system runs.

On top of that, the Oshkosh Division I team finished tied for ninth in the nation, while the D-II team finished tied for third in the nation. With 456 teams chasing a spot on the podium, placing two teams in two different divisions into the top 10 was no easy task.

Oshkosh competes in the Midwest 10 and the Wisconsin Volleyball Conference, and since its founding in 1992, UWO has been one of the most dominant programs in collegiate club volleyball. In only its second year of competing at the national championships, Oshkosh won the 1996 D-II National Championship. Since 2005, the Titans have won the 2006, 2007, 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2016 NCVF D-I national titles and the 2010, 2012 and 2014 NCVF D-III national titles.

The D-I team also took home national runner-up awards in 2005 and 2009, while the D-III team added runner-up trophies in 2006 and 2015. To some, this may sound arbitrary or unimportant, but to add that these titles are battled for amongst top-tier schools such as Ohio State, Arizona State, the University of Florida, UCLA, USC, Virginia Tech, Indiana University and Villanova, does a greater justice to the level of competition that a Wisconsin school like UWO brings to the national stage.

The domination can be largely contributed to the ability to play as a team and working together, but having talented individual players does make the job easier. Prior to this year, UW Oshkosh has seen 47 players earn a collective 71 collegiate club All-American awards and 132 WVC honors.

During the 2018 season alone, the Titans brought home six All-Conference WVC nominations in D-II, and another five men received All-Conference recognition and a WVC Libero of the Year award, from the D-I roster.

This sort of track record does not come easily though. Despite the “club” designation, the program has the schedule and dedication of any NCAA organization. The team practices five nights a week for three hours during winter interim and goes to five nights a week for two hours and 45 minutes during the spring semester.

Practices consist of position-specific skill work, individual team drills, scrimmaging and conditioning, all headed by Will Brydon. Brydon took over as the coach of the D-I team for the first time this season. Under Brydon are the D-II and D-III coaches, Alex Harty and Michael Wamboldt, respectively.

All of the above considered, it’s time to stop looking down on club sports and acknowledge the work these athletes put in. Numerous members turned down offers to play at NCAA schools because they prioritized academics over athletics. Some even came to Oshkosh because the volleyball scene was more competitive than some NCAA schools could offer. According to the NCAA, their goal is to support student-athlete success on the field, in the classroom and in life by integrating athletics into higher education.

The Oshkosh men’s volleyball team currently has an NCAA petition pending, but in the meantime, they are left to bear the full cost of a college athlete upon themselves.