A different kind of club

There is one club on campus that does not meet every Tuesday and Thursday during the common hour. Its members don’t sit around at desks in classrooms and talk about what brings them together. They’re more like a team, and this team happens to meet four to five times a week for long, rigorous meetings which spark heated debate and require intense physical and mental preparation.

This unique campus organization is the men’s club volleyball team.

“There seems to be this misconception that [the club team] is a place where kids come once a week to talk about the game and have fun,” said Chardly Pierrecharles, the team’s head coach. “We work just as hard as a Division-I team, and play teams just as competitive.”

Although the men’s volleyball team has remained under the radar since the team’s conception in 2002.

One freshman student favored the exclusivity of the Division I teams’ ability to recruit top athletes to the University. But, Pierrecharles simply does not have the power to do that. Instead, his 15-player roster practices on a basketball court in Taffner Field House and holds annual open tryouts. However, their lack of resources does not diminish their abilities on the court. According to senior player Charles Romano, “The program is improving and the talent [each year] grows exponentially.”

Over thirty students tested their volleyball skills in early-September tryouts to fill ten vacant roster spots. Only five players (Romano, junior Jesse Melendez, and sophomores Joseph Han, Justin Weisman and Rafael Torres) return after an unsuccessful 2007-08 season in the mind of the team’s head coach. Eight freshman, including 6-foot-4 center-blocker Ryan Tunney, will lay the groundwork for the future of the club.

Pierrecharles started the club with other students in 2002 to spread his passion for volleyball throughout the St. John’s community. Its proposal was approved in 2003 by Campus Recreation and the team began play in 2004. Despite the program’s youth, the team has had its share of successes in the New England Collegiate Volleyball League’s South division. It has finished in second place during the regular season in each of the last three seasons, and has had success in tournament play in each year.

“I view my players as NCAA athletes, even though we don’t share the NCAA namesake,” Pierrecharles said. That means a strict sense of self responsibility and a personal accountability. Pierrecharles leads according to USAVB and NECVL regulations, as well as his own constitution. He requires a teacher’s signature allowing each player to miss classes and travel with the team, ensuring that each player makes up any assignments he is responsible for, even though most tournaments, like in the NCAA, take place on weekends. And like their Division I counterparts, club volleyball players also have up to five years eligibility.

Though it may not compete on the NCAA level, the team does share a Big East rival with its NCAA basketball counterpart. The University of Connecticut is the team’s biggest rival, according to Pierrecharles. It doesn’t play other Big East teams once conference play begins, but it often matches up with Big East schools in non-conference tournaments. It does travel to plenty of competitive volleyball schools in the Northeast, playing in the NECVL South division against UMASS-Amherst, Central Connecticut State University, Middlebury, Vermont, Wesleyan, and Williams College. The big payoff, according to Pierrecharles, comes once postseason tournament play begins-the team gets to travel to warmer climates (its last three stops were in Utah, Kentucky and Texas) to play some of the top club teams in the nation.