IIT announces new Varsity Men’s Volleyball Team

Wed, 2015/09/09
Reno Waswil

The IIT Athletics Department announced in late July that, in addition to their current variety of men’s varsity sports that they offer to students, a men’s volleyball team will be added to the list for the upcoming winter/spring volleyball season.

As of last year, though volleyball was an option for male students to join, participation was only limited to that of a club sport. Joe Hakes, Athletics Director of the university, explained that the difference with a varsity sport is its adherence to a specific system of rules and regulations mandated by a centralized body, and in this case, that body would be the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Much more commitment is required and expected from the players in a varsity sport as opposed to a club sport as season practices are, as Hakes puts it, “basically every day that we don’t play.”

Another important difference between club and varsity sports from the school’s perspective is that in the varsity case, there is an expectation that the coaches of the sports will recruit students to join the teams, which leads into the question of what factors led to the addition of this sport to the varsity lineup in the first place?

Volleyball is a Division III sport within the NCAA, the division IIT has been transitioning into for the past two or so years according to current IIT women's volleyball team student-athlete Elizabeth Waltman. According to the association’s website, this division is primarily for student-athletes for whom academics remain the primary focus of their collegiate experience, and therefore, the conflict with their academics is minimized. There is also the important distinction that students-athletes are not allowed to receive athletic scholarships in Division III programs, which was a different case under the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), the association in which IIT was previously.

According to Hakes, the new team will “widen [IIT’s] sports profile to get our profile more solidly into Division III and into a conference.” The Athletic Department made the decision to establish a volleyball team believing that the interest in the sport and the opportunity it offers the school for recruitment purposes is large enough justify it.

I asked Hakes what it was about this particular sport that compelled the department to graduate it from club to varsity status instead of other sports on campus with club status. He says that in furthering their goal of becoming more competitive in the division, men’s volleyball is a relatively new addition, allowing the department to get ahead on recruitment and ensure that they hold a dominant position in the program. Though not all current club sports would further the department in this goal, he did remark that tennis is also a Division III sport that they may consider creating a varsity team for in the future.

In our dialogue, I asked whether he thought that general interest for the sport was on the rise and he confirmed that it was, particularly at schools in the Midwest. In fact, the National Championship last year (which was made up of a combination of Division I and Division II schools) saw two Midwestern schools, Loyola and Lewis, face off against each other, with Loyola emerging triumphant in the end. “This,” said Hakes, “will give us a chance to play some good young programs as we develop ours.”

I also spoke with Head Coach Katie Zulandt about the September 2 open tryouts and the upcoming schedule of practices and games. A total of 23 people tried out for the team, 15 of which were chosen to be kept for the team. According to Zulandt, “Some were players who played on the club last year, but many were brand new.”

As this new team prepares for their first game scheduled for January 15 against Lakeland College, pre-season practice will start in November and go up to a week before finals week. The first in-season practice will begin on January 3, giving them a total of 12 days to practice before that critical season opener, which I hope everyone reading will find time to attend or listen in live on WIIT 88.9FM.