After three decades of winning seasons, the University of Rhode Island men’s club volleyball team made history in April by claiming its first national championship.
The title, captured in the IAAA division at the National Collegiate Volleyball Federation Championships, was the first for any club sports team at URI since 2011, when the women’s sailing team and the men’s swim team were victorious.
The volleyball team avenged its only loss in the NCVF Championship to secure the triumph. The Rams defeated George Washington University in the finals, 29-27, 18-25, 15-12, after dropping a match to the Colonials the day before.
“To beat a team as good as GW took near perfection,” said senior tri-captain Jack Vaccaro. “I was somewhat incredulous when it was over. It speaks to the level of focus and heart this team had, in order to overcome an incredibly daunting opponent.”
Vaccaro, who quarterbacks the offense from the setter position, was named to the all-tournament team. Sophomore defensive specialist Justin Conover and freshman outside hitter Max Waltzman, of Natick, Mass., joined Vaccaro on the all-tournament team. Sophomore James Fagan, also an outside hitter, was named the tournament’s most valuable player.
The championship was an especially proud moment for Vaccaro, Fagan and Conover, who all grew up in the shadow of the university in South Kingstown, and had hoped to someday represent URI on the volleyball court.
“This was something I dreamed about from the time I started playing as a 12-year-old,” Vaccaro said. “It took a day to really understand the significance of what we achieved. It’s unheard of for a university from the smallest state to win this tournament. It was really special to me, being a native of the state and the town in which URI is located.”
Vaccaro, who also serves as the club’s treasurer, played in the tournament with a heavy heart, as his grandfather passed away two days before departing for Denver.
“I wanted to win this for him and for my family,” said Vaccaro, whose family made the trip to the Mile High City to watch him play.
“I’ve been blessed with great players and great captains in the six years I’ve helmed the team, but Jack is head and shoulders above the rest in terms of his focus and determination,” said Holden. “His leadership permeates the team and has made this season above and beyond the best.”
The Rams headed into nationals short-handed. Their other two captains, juniors Joe Honig of Davis, Calif., and Nik Thommes of Needham, Mass., injured their ankles during the regional championships in early April
Honig was able to play in a limited capacity in Denver, but Thommes, whose injury was more severe, was unable to make the trip. Freshman Matt DaSilva, of East Providence, R.I., replaced Thommes in the lineup.
DaSilva played most of the season on URI’s second team, affectionately referred to as the “Baby Rams,” because it is mainly comprised of freshmen and sophomores. He was one of many players to rise to the occasion at nationals.
“Fagan was an unstoppable outside hitter, who played great defense and put up some crucial kills,” Holden said. “Max was right behind him in the production department. As a pair, they were the best one-two punch in the tournament. Justin Conover had a monster weekend, with his best performance coming in the finals versus GW.”
A Magic Way to End a Perfect Regular Season
The championship was the culmination of a stellar season, in which URI finished 15-0 in the New England Collegiate Volleyball League (NECVL), defeating such schools as the University of Connecticut, Colombia University, Bryant University and Providence College.
“After a few tournaments and scrimmages in the fall semester, we started to see the chemistry come together,” said Holden. “We were defensively superior to some of our previous squads, and we had size and speed. The group also jelled very well socially.”
Managed by URI’s Department of Campus Recreation, the 18 club sports teams at URI are largely responsible for raising the money they’ll need for the regular season and post-season.
To cover the expenses of attending the NCVF Championships, the men’s volleyball team raised close to $12,000 through crowdfunding, fundraisers on campus and donation from alumni.
While the club teams don’t compete in NCAA contests, the URI Athletic Department is proud of the success the teams have had on a national stage in recent years.
“The hard work and dedication the men’s volleyball team, and the other club teams, have shown to their respective sports has certainly paid off,” said Coordinator of Club Sports Joe Wilbur. “They have represented URI exceptionally well. I look forward to working with the student leaders and coaching staff to perpetuate this level of success.”