Removing stigma: MTU club out to prove that volleyball is for men as well

Provided photo Back row, left to right: Jake Holmes, Ryan Frost, Ben Bolzman, Alex Roelant, Ian Blair, Matthew Radloff, Sean James (2), William Christian (10), Tom Prica, Andrew Christenson, James Klotz (15). Front row, left to right: Jake Lehmann, Aaron Leonard, Brock Rudlaff (23), Zach Drexler, Nate Isley (14), Grant Grenesko, Sam Genter, Tristan Keckonen, Keanan Peterson-Rucker.

HOUGHTON — The current president of the men’s volleyball club at Michigan Tech, Keanan Peterson-Rucker, is proud of being part of a club that has been around for at least 20 years.

“Our main purpose is to gather people around the competitive sport of volleyball,” he said. “It brings people together. It brings people together and promotes volleyball as a guys’ sport which isn’t a super popular thing, but we try to show that it can be a men’s sport too.”

Though the fundamentals are similar, woman’s and man’s volleyball can differ in many ways.

“The men’s game of volleyball is completely different then woman’s,” said Peterson-Rucker. “Just the style of play (and) to be able to see a different game with the same rules, (and the) same objective, is kind of cool. It just shows that there’s not always just one way to do something. The strategy is completely different, so it’s kind of cool to see that.”

The club has seen success as of late and is currently ranked 23rd nationally in Division 2 play after taking third place in the Wisconsin Volleyball Conference (WVC).

“So, I joined the club three years ago,” he said. “I’ve seen it grow in the ability and the confidence to compete with good teams. This year, we took third in the conference and just made the national rankings, which hasn’t been done for a long time. Just the growth and the confidence to say that we can play any team, and beat any team, has really been cool to see.”

One of the most basic concepts in sports has actually brought the club success.

“Just the way that the team plays together,” said Peterson-Rucker, “that’s what it is, just the team work and the ability to have each others’ backs when someone makes a bad play. The team picks them up. That’s really been the reason (for) our success, just teamwork.”

A big goal for the team this year was to recruit strong players, and in doing so, it has gained the organization and knowledge of freshman Ryan Frost, a utility player who played outside and right side hitter in high school, but plays middle blocker for Michigan Tech.

“We really want to grow the numbers and the popularity of the club (on) campus so we can (get) more recruits,” Peterson-Rucker said. “Higher numbers will make us a better team in general. A lot of good things come with that, so that was our big goal this year.

“It starts with the little things. We picked up a rookie freshman this year. Seeing him join the starting roster was cool because he brought in high school experience. We have very little high school experience because high school men’s club volleyball isn’t very popular either. To have him coming in with former head coach experience, instead of just player-coach experience like we have, is huge for the club.”

“I think we can build upon that in the future using his knowledge (and) organization from more of a varsity program to really improve our game and learn new skills and new drills that we can use for the future, even when we’re all gone,” said Peterson-Rucker. “Hopefully, we can take what he knows, document it, use it and then pass it on to the next generations (of the club) as they come through.”

A tournament in Lacrosse, Wisconsin, early in the season was really a turning point for the club, who came from behind and was able to build their confidence as a team and then use that to find success.

“At the beginning of this year, we had a tournament in Lacrosse,” Peterson-Rucker said. “We went 4-out-of-5 that weekend, nothing great. We lost to a team that we should’ve beaten, but then the next tournament we had, we went 5-0. We came together as a team.

“The guys understood that it wasn’t going to be easy. We had to work for it (and) earn it… the national ranking has shown (how far) we’ve come this year.”

The club is preparing to compete in nationals, which are in Denver, Colorado. Peterson-Rucker says the WVC championships were a good test that helped prepare the team for what lies ahead.

“We (recently) had our conference championship,” he said. “That was a big test for us to (see where) we were and how we could compete with good teams. At the national championship, you’re going to get paired up with good teams.”

The team did some self assessment during the past week to prepare, working on what they have struggled with during the season.

“We picked out those weaknesses and this week in practice, we worked on those weaknesses,” he said. “At this point in the season, (we’re) not going to be changing anything big. It’s the little things right now.”

Peterson-Rucker wants the club to be open to anyone who may be interested in trying the sport.

“We welcome anymore to the club,” said Peterson-Rucker. “It doesn’t matter if you have previous experience or not. When I came in, I played one summer of sand (volleyball) just with my friends. Now we’re a competitive team. We really focus on the fundamentals and we’ll bring in anyone (because) it’s what you make it.”