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There are times when Alex Mobarak wishes the questions would subside. But when the senior talks about Temple’s volleyball club, the inquiries always seem to pour in.
Someone might say, “I didn’t know Temple
had a Division I men’s team.” It doesn’t, Mobarak often responds.
“So, it’s an intramurals team?”
No, not quite.
These queries are all part of Mobarak’s involvement in the volleyball club, which has been a vibrant part of Temple’s club sport landscape for the last four years.
This week the Owls will have a chance to strengthen their reputation in the sport with a trip to Louisville, Ky., for the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association Championship.
Last season – in its first-ever trip to the NIRSA national tournament – the volleyball club finished 13th in a pool of 36 teams.
“It was one of those ‘We’ve made it’ moments for us, and for the future,” said Mobarak, who founded the club as a freshman in 2003. “We’ve had big wins before, but that was a proud moment.”
It hasn’t always been so proud, however, as certain limitations have been imposed on the fledgling volleyball club.
For starters, the kind of acknowledgement
afforded to Temple’s 22 Division I intercollegiate sports usually evades the 13-man club.
Additionally, the Owls are without a coach as they have opted for a non-traditional, completely student-run operation.
They don’t have a posh home floor, either.
For practices and home games, the volleyball club has been relegated to an obsolete gym toward the back of Pearson Hall.
All the while, the club has found unprecedented success in its four years of existence.
When Mobarak first concluded he would develop a volleyball club, he didn’t have much backing.
He anticipated some pitfalls. Hanging flyers, assembling a roster and making a schedule single-handedly were bound to create a collective burden for Mobarak.
Hiring referees and reserving court time were high on his to-do list, as well.For his sake, strong roots in high school volleyball and active participation in Net Nights, a volleyball activity at the Student Pavilion, helped Mobarak’s cause.
But overcoming the obstacles that new club teams often face – like earning financial and university support through responsible team management – still stood in the club’s way.
Through their first two seasons, Mobarak and his teammates played while on probation. That is, they weren’t recognized as an official club until they had proven their legitimacy to the university through a trial period.
“Finding support the first couple years was hard,” Mobarak said. “Not having the support from Temple, or at least what we deserved, was hard. I think most of us are here because we love playing the sport.”
Those growing pains didn’t keep the club from winning or organizing a club the right way, according to Temple’s Sport Club Coordinator Jordin Schaffner.
“They’ve been a cooperative group – meeting deadlines and following all of the policies and procedures set forth by Campus Recreation,” she said. “We give them our full support.”
Schaffner, who is in her first year at Temple, said the Owls have maintained a clean record of responsibility, which has translated to wins on the court.
“The volleyball club, in itself, is a very good club in terms of organization and responsibility,” Schaffner said. “They’ve been very successful in club management, and that shows with how successful they’ve been playing.”
“Something’s going very right”
Temple’s volleyball club hasn’t always been as competitive as it is today. Nor has it ever been this successful, in terms of wins and losses.
The club Mobarak formed in 2003 was just the latest edition of a volleyball club that had existed on and off since the 1970s.
John Susko knows of the club’s spotty, up-and-down history. He played for and coached the Owls during his undergraduate career at Temple in the 1990s. He said the current squad – with two straight trips to nationals under its belt – has achieved the club’s high-water mark.
“It’s had its undulations, where there was a really strong body like the guys that are there now, and they’ve made the program flourish,” Susko said, “And then it gets to the point where folks might have graduated or they experienced a change in personnel, and that usually had an adverse effect on the club.
“In a club, sometimes it’s a group of people that just wants to whack the ball around,” he continued. “What you see in that gym with these guys is not the expectation. It doesn’t always have to be a competitive brand of volleyball. It’s nice to see the club get to that level. It shows something’s going very right for them.”
The club’s history isn’t well documented. Susko said he received some historical documents and old rosters when he took over as coach in the 90s, but very little is known about the club that once was.
That doesn’t make a difference to Aaron Pagoda, a current senior on the club.“Our club, it’s grassroots right now,” Pagoda said. “In our conference, we’ve built up a reputation. Now it’s about building a rep here.”
And that is possible according to Susko, who has taught four of the current players in an introductory-level volleyball course through the kinesiology department.
“Some years, we had kids who were passionate about playing, but they lacked the essential skill sets,” Susko said of his time playing with and coaching the club. “I always wanted to see it survive, and it has a chance with this group.”
The Road to Louisville
Following a practice Tuesday night, the Owls will board a flight Wednesday morning and head to Louisville and the NIRSA national tournament.
Sure, they’ve been there before. But it hasn’t kept some of them from feeling jittery.
“It’s like no other tournament,” said sophomore Mike Colgan.
“It’s definitely a good feeling playing at nationals,” added sophomore Nate Baker. “I can’t wait.”
He corrected himself.“We can’t wait,” he said.
Getting there – not what’s waiting for them, some said – was the tough part.The Owls posted an 11-2 record this season,
including a win at nationally-ranked Messiah. Less than a week later, the same Messiah team beat the Owls with the Mid-Atlantic Club Volleyball Conference Championship on the line.
A second-place finish in the MACVC was the Owls’ best ever, following two straight fifth-place finishes in the conference.
At Louisville, it will be easy for the Owls to become overwhelmed. Nearly 200 club teams – 100 all-male and 100 all-female teams – will head to Kentucky this week with aspirations of going all the way.
“Some teams are happy to just be there,” Mobarak said of nationals. “When we get there, we’ll be a bit more focused than that. We’ve seen what it’s like, so the goal is to play better than the next team.
“The other goal is to come home having won it all.”
Christopher A. Vito can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.