Men’s club volleyball wins national championship


Stacey Grable

Junior middle blocker Quinten Grable goes up for the ball during a game at the national championship.

Jordan Baron, sports editor

Gregory Zaylor got close. Oh, so close. Close enough to watch the champions, but just far enough that he didn’t get to feel their glory.

Zaylor, now coach of the Northeastern men’s club volleyball team, graduated three years ago. He had competed in the national tournament before, when he played for the team. He watched as the best teams in the nation fought it out in the final rounds of the competition. He was a spectator to the celebrations of past winners. But he had never tasted that victory himself.

That finally changed this past April, when the Huskies emerged as victors at the national tournament, hosted in Denver, for the first time in their 10-year history. They defeated Xavier in the final match of the gold bracket, 2-0.

Stacey Grable
Members of the men’s club volleyball team celebrating after winning their national championship.

The Huskies went 9-1 during the tournament, losing only to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on the first day. On the final day of the tournament, NU played Georgia Tech, Buffalo, Navy and Xavier, a lineup of teams known for their skilled performance on the court. Long story short, the Huskies’ journey to the top was quite difficult.

It was a meaningful victory for the team, as many players have been to nationals several times before and returned home empty-handed.

“It was surreal,” said team captain Alex Esco. “I told my guys at the beginning of the year [that] we have the talent and potential to win nationals, and we’re going to do it. This was a perfect ending to a fantastic year with the guys and a fantastic five years as a player and as a captain.”

The victory also served as a bounce-back performance for the Huskies, who had recently lost their regional championship. They treated the loss as motivation to push them into the national championship and take home a title.

The tournament, run by the National Collegiate Volleyball Federation, consists of five divisions, each with 48 teams. This year, there were over 5,000 volleyball players in Denver.

Stacey Grable
The men’s club volleyball team poses for a photo after winning the NCVF national championship.

NU players cite their team morale as the main reason the Huskies were so successful this year.

“There was just a chemistry that I’ve never felt before on and off the court. Everyone was super close and in lockstep with each other,” said Eliot Smullen, a third-year who has been a member of the team since his first year at NU. “There was definitely a lot of feelings for playing for a teammate and the other guys out on the court. There was a lot of trust and intangible meshing that I feel was a huge part in the tournament and finishing up our season.”

Zaylor, the coach, said he strives to make team chemistry a large part of his coaching process.

“They wanted the best for the team and for each other and I think that that is the best quality that you can have in a team and a teammate and a player is that they care more about the team than they do about themselves and they care more about their teammates than they do about themselves,” he said.

Smullen views this year’s team as a blueprint for the success of future teams who hope to repeat as national champions.

“I think it is a blueprint going forward for what a team should be comprised of,” he said. “That chemistry is just as important as building volleyball skills.”

The victory sparked joy in the players, but seemed to light an even more powerful fire in the heart of coach Zaylor, who is confident in his abilities to continue as head coach.. The experience of winning a national title brought him closer to his players.

“It was a really special experience that they are never going to forget,” he said. “I’m certainly never going to forget it. It was an incredible feeling.”