Men’s club volleyball sets lineup, hangs tough

By Cole Cruz

Despite only a 2-2 finish this past weekend at Lewis University in Romeoville, Ill., the Illinois men’s club volleyball team’s tough play against top competition was reason for excitement.

The Illini pushed Lewis’ varsity squad to the tournament cap, losing the match 25-18, 27-26. Even with the loss, the team finished second in the pool and earned a No. 7 seed in the gold tournament, where they eventually were defeated at the hands of an accomplished United States of America volleyball team, TPC.

“The fact that we were hanging with a varsity team was an accomplishment for us,” said setter Chris Walstra. “We don’t even have a coach.”

Illinois was simply overmatched against the more experienced TPC squad. After losing the first game 25-19, the squad took TPC to the brink, 30-28. It is this performance that gives the Illini hope for the future.

“We’re on the road we need to be in order to get to the championship,” said backside hitter Kevin Deeke.

For the first time, the Illini went into the tournament with a set starting lineup. This step is different from past years, in which the team usually waited until the spring to name the starters. Walstra and Deeke were both starters, along with outside hitters Dan Maxwell and Steve Jeffries, middle Ryan Fabrizius, and libero Jim Mazurski. Big contributions also came off the bench from sophomore libero Pat Condron and two freshmen outside hitters, Emmett Culligan and Joe Toth. The decision to go with a set starting lineup this early in the season was made to increase the intensity in practice.

“Hopefully the fact that we’re starting to have a more set lineup will benefit us this weekend and into the future,” Walstra said. “We’re looking to see people competing and earning those starting spots.”

“It definitely gives a chance to bring the team closer together,” Deeke said. “When you play with the same players, it makes you stronger as a team.”

Another bright spot for Illinois this past weekend was the improvement on the defensive end, where the team has been struggling all year. Walstra attributed the improvement to a new attitude on the defensive side of the ball.

“I think we had a much better attitude on defense this weekend and a much better desire to win,” Walstra said. “I think that’s why we were hanging with some of those better teams.”

Senior middle blocker Ryan Fabrizius believes there were a few specific times throughout the tournament when the team was clicking on all cylinders.

“I saw at specific moments, especially in our third pool game which we had to win to move on to the tournament, where we were on fire,” Fabrizius said. “It was good to see that we could be untouchable for a while, but we could still be more consistent.”

Illinois will host its only tournament of the year on Saturday. Games will be played at Huff Hall and Kenney Gym. The Illini will play all of their games at Huff.