The University of Rhode Island club volleyball team won its first-ever national championship recently, topping George Washington in Denver, Colorado to bring home URI’s first club title since 2011.
The Rams had an excellent regular season, finishing with a perfect 15-0 record and topping some of the top clubs in the country in the process. Although the Rams were not expecting to go the distance and claim the national title, they felt that they had one of its strongest groups ever heading into the year.
“We weren’t expecting it. We knew that we could do well, we had a pretty solid regular season, and we played really well against some of the teams that traditionally do well. I thought that we had some good team chemistry this year,” said URI coach Mike Holden.
After finishing 15-0, the Rams hit a rough patch during the regional competition where they dropped multiple games and nearly missed nationals. Their string of misfortune continued at nationals, when captains Joe Honig and Nik Thommes injured their ankles and were forced to miss the action.
The Rams fell to George Washington in their first match, prior to handing them the tournament-deciding loss.
“That loss to George Washington was the first real loss we had all year and I kind of thought, ‘here we go, we’re now going to have to fight for our lives.’ But the kids responded and kept marching forward until the end,” said Holden, who has been impressed with Rhode Island volleyball in the past few years. “It’s unbelievable that such a small state can have such good volleyball. We play big schools from strong areas and we managed to smack a bunch of them. The response has been great, we actually had a lot of parents travel with us, a bunch of them made the trip Denver.”
Holden was also proud of the work that Warwick native and Pilgrim alum Zach Johnson put in throughout the season, and expects him to continue to be one of the URI leaders moving forward.
“He’s a big kid, a very good hitter. He was actually just selected to be one of our tri-captains for next year. He came to us last year as a walk on and worked hard. He’s got an excellent work ethic, he just works and works and he ended up being a force for us at nationals,” said Holden.
The Rams will return much of their core next season, and have been present on the recruiting trails over the past few months. Holden expects the Rams to once again compete for a title next year, and possibly for the next few years.
“We’re pretty stacked and we should be for a while,” said Holden. “We had three freshmen in our regular rotation, it looks like we have five very good Rhode Island players coming in next year with another big kid from Connecticut, so we’re going to be pretty loaded.”