Club Volleyball Goes to Nationals

The basketball players of New York City’s famed Rucker Tournament might not be able to make an NBA roster, but they could clean house, more often than not, in some corporate recreational league.

Of course, the incumbent rec players would be none too happy about seeing their playground unfairly usurped by people talented enough they really ought to be playing at a higher level.

Clint Barnes has gotten to know that feeling well.

As coach of the U’s men’s club volleyball team, he’d like to see his squad’s competition limited other assorted cast of pay-for-play walk-ons.

Unfortunately for him and the Utes, a few universities with money to burn have created scholarship funds for their club teams, and used them to raid the ranks of varsity teams throughout the country, drawing in bench warmer types from big-time programs to tip the balance of power on the club level.

It may not be fair, but it’s what Barnes has to contend with.

“Arizona has a budget of $1 million. And we can’t really compete against money,” Barnes said. “There are a few other schools that can do that, and it’s a hard thing, because it’s really a disadvantage for us. There are kids who’d like to come and play here, but these other places are giving them free tuition and books, and we have nothing to offer them.”

In spite of those odds, however, Barnes is confident as his team prepares to play in the national club championships. The Utes will leave tonight for Dallas to compete in the three-day, 48 team Division I Tournament, and in spite of the inherent obstacles they face, they’re convinced they can become the “Hoosiers” of the volleyball court.

“We were second in the conference tournament to what is the nation’s top team, in Arizona, and now we’ll go to nationals as a second seed,” Barnes said. “Hopefully, we can go all the way. We played Arizona tough and we were missing two players. With them back, we should be able to rest some other guys going into the final day of the tournament and hopefully beat Arizona.”

Of course, as an unheralded club team, the journey has been more arduous than the final destination.

With a recruiting base consisting of former high schoolers and those who hear about the team via word of mouth, Barnes and company start their season in September with about 40 players on the roster.

However, between the considerable cost and time commitment involved, “we dwindle down to about 15 guys in the spring who are committed and who can afford it,” Barnes said.

And while that does little for maintaining consistency, it does prove to Barnes who is truly dedicated to the team.

And dedication is what is necessary to succeed. Having talent helps of course, and the coach says he’s been “really lucky with having a lot of guys with playing experience drop in our lap,” it takes effort and sacrifice to make it happen.

That’s what it will take for Utah just to make it out of the two-day pool play round, when it will face up to seven opponents each day before the final 16 teams make it to the championship round on Saturday and square off to determine the winner.

Barnes, however, says his team is ready.

“It’s three days of just grueling volleyball against just phenomenal talent,” he said. “But I like the group I have. They’ve worked hard enough and done all the little things that it takes to compete.”

Even if that entails competing against a stacked field.

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