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Arizona men's club volleyball: Rising to the challenge

Giuseppe DeMasi/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Pre-architecture sophomore Garrett Lough spikes the ball during men's club volleyball practice at the Student Recreation Center last night.
By Michael Schwartz
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, September 22, 2005
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Perennial club powerhouse sports top-level talent

While it hasn't hoisted any banners on National Championship Drive, the Arizona men's club volleyball team boasts a championship history of its own.

As one of the top club teams in the nation, the Wildcats have made winning a habit. Arizona took home four national titles in five years, winning in 1999, 2000, 2002 and 2003.

"I wasn't here for it, but I hear it's pretty amazing," said junior setter Brady Dinnsen. "Every year we're in the top five. Every team in the nation wants to beat us. We just got upset last year, and it was a big disappointment."

The Arizona "drought" means the squad has failed to win a title in the last two years, although it has still put up quality results.

Last year's team lost to Lakeland College in the quarterfinals of the NIRSA Collegiate Volleyball Sport Club Championships after entering the tournament ranked third in the country. They fell in the round of 16 the previous year.

Club president Mike Fow, a junior right side hitter, said the club's history is "pretty amazing."

"We're always the team to beat," he said. "Everybody hates Arizona. It's so much fun to play off that."

Because there is no Division I men's volleyball program at Arizona, the best male players attending the school must play club volleyball.

The team features local Division I talent, including junior middle hitter Eric Vincent, who prepped at Canyon Del Oro High School and started his career at UC-Irvine before transferring to Arizona.

"I couldn't afford (Irvine), though, so I just came back to my hometown," said Vincent, who earned first-team all-conference honors last season. "They have a pretty good club team, so I wanted to come back."

The Wildcats belong to the Mountain West Volleyball Conference, which is not affiliated with the NCAA's Mountain West Conference. They join club teams from ASU, NAU and UNLV as conference foes.

Arizona practices Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. to prepare for a full season of tournaments, including competitions they will host Oct. 29 and Nov. 19 in Bear Down Gym.

The Mountain West Volleyball Conference championship and nationals highlight the schedule. Last year the Wildcats won the conference championship after finishing second the year before.

Because the team is an official club at Arizona, Fow said ASUA allocated the Wildcats $5,000, which they use to pay for nationals, conference and refereeing fees, travel, new balls and new carts.

"It's been a blast working here, working hard and getting to go to tournaments, traveling and playing against tough competition," Fow said.

Just as Arizona's men's basketball players have a connection to the past when departed players return and meet the current players, the same can be said for men's club volleyball.

"I know a lot about (the past)," Vincent said. "I know a lot of players from the past, and everybody's really tight. Whoever's been in the program at one point or another, basically, we all know each other."

Fow said that while the team does not recruit anymore, it still ends up with top talent.

"It's just the Arizona name that's really popular for volleyball," he said.

This season, the Wildcats are expected to field a competitive club, as they look to return to their recent greatness.

"We've got a pretty stacked team here, a lot of returning players and good new freshmen," Fow said.

Having not won a championship in all of two seasons, the Wildcats share one goal for the upcoming season.

"Win nationals, no doubt," Vincent said. "We'll do it this year."

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