URI men’s volleyball club team wins first national championship

Following a 15-0 regular season, the Rams captured the national title in Denver

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The URI men’s volleyball team is pictured with the championship trophy, while wearing their gold medals.

KINGSTON R.I. – May 17, 2019 – After three decades of winning seasons, the URI men’s club volleyball team made history this spring by claiming its first national championship.

The national title, captured at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver on April 20, 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 their only loss in the National Collegiate Volleyball Federation (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.

Teammates Jack Vaccaro, Evan Ernst and Joe Honig
From left, Teammates Jack Vaccaro, Evan Ernst and Joe Honig hold the winning trophy from the National Collegiate Volleyball Federation Championship.

“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, Massachusetts, 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 South Kingstown and 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,” stated Vaccaro, whose family made the trip to the Mile High City to watch him play.

Head coach Mike Holden had high praise for the way in which Vaccaro led the team at the national tournament and throughout the season.

“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, California and Nik Thommes of Needham, Massachusetts, injured their ankles during the regional championships, April 6-7.

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, replaced Thommes in the lineup.

DaSilva played most of the season on URI’s second team, affectionally 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,” stated Holden. “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.”

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 gelled 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 donations from alumni.

While the club teams don’t compete in NCAA contests, the University is proud of the squads’ successes.

“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.”