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Joining the club: Island collegians making mark in the sporting life

COURTESY PHOTO Shelter Island HIgh School alums Margaret Michalak and Matt BeltCappellino had a chance to meet up at the Collegiate Club Volleyball Nationals in Kansas City, Missouri.
COURTESY PHOTO Shelter Island High School alums Margaret Michalak and Matt BeltCappellino had a chance to meet up at the Collegiate Club Volleyball Nationals in Kansas City, Missouri.

When high school athletes think about playing sports in college, normally they envision a varsity team at a NCAA level. While that may be the goal of elite athletes willing to dedicate themselves to their chosen sport six or seven days a week, there are other choices to continue playing sports at the collegiate level.

Intramural sports and teams are normally the lower skill level, but a great way to make friends and enjoy some friendly competition. Some sports can be quite competitive, but generally anyone who wants to play can form a team or enter a league and have some fun.

Club sports are an often overlooked or unknown level for collegiate athletes. They are the middle tier of collegiate sports, giving competitive high school athletes a chance to continue playing, sometimes at a high level, without the strict requirements of a varsity sport.

Club sports normally practice two or three times a week during the season and travel to other colleges to compete. Colleges supply some support, but teams often supply their own transportation and may need to fundraise to purchase uniforms or to attend major competitions.

Club teams vary widely from college to college, from extremely competitive squads that select teams through tryouts, to those who welcome newcomers to the sport. Most rugby players or crew teammates pick up the sport in college.

Shelter Island is well represented by volleyball players who have continued playing their sport at the club level in college.

Matt BeltCappellino and MeMe Lawrence, Shelter Island class of 2014, have both competed each of their three years in college. MeMe is now the co-president and social chair of the Blue Devils women’s club volleyball team at SUNY Fredonia.

Matt is one of the captains of the men’s team at the University of Vermont (UVM). Emily Hyatt and Margaret Michalak, Shelter Island class of 2016, are finishing their first years at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and SUNY Albany respectively.

When asked why they play, each had similar answers: To blow off steam; take a break from studying; make friends; to be active; relive the glory years of high school; continue to improve their skills; and make new memories.

There is no varsity volleyball team at RPI, but Emily reports that the club team is aiming to become a Division III team in two years. She had to try out for the team, which consists of 22 women. She likes the competitive atmosphere but also appreciates the flexibility.

“Because of the intensity of academics at RPI, the club team makes it easier for students to put academics first, but we still get to play,” Emily said.

A coach runs most practices, but the team captain is in charge at weekend tournaments. Emily even had a chance to play against Margaret at one competition.

Matt and Margaret both spent April 13 to 15 in Kansas City, Missouri at the National Collegiate Volleyball Federation’s Collegiate Club Volleyball Championships, AKA Nationals. Both teams played at the Division IAAA level — large schools in the least competitive bracket.

They were certainly there to play their best, but also there for the fun and camaraderie of the huge event. It was Matt’s second Nationals, and he remarked, “Seeing over 400 teams from all over the country was an awesome experience.

The national championship between Ohio State and San Diego State was the best volleyball I have ever seen in person and something I won’t forget.”

At the end of three days of playing, UVM and Albany found themselves in the Bronze bracket.
At Margaret’s first nationals experience, the Albany Great Danes battled through four rounds of the single elimination playoffs, losing in the finals to Southern Illinois-Carbondale, and finishing a very respectable 26th overall. The UVM Catamounts lost a close match to eventual bronze champions Penn State-Harrisburg, finishing 35th.

Coming from Shelter Island’s small school to spend several days at a national tournament is a great experience, and in reach for many of our athletes. As our students leave the Island community to head to college, let’s remember to encourage them to check out club sports to continue their athletic careers.