Since the construction of the Piano Row Gymnasium in 2006 allowed additional space for Emerson's growing athletics program, the athletic department has been itching to add a men's volleyball team.
"When we built the gym, we envisioned adding men's volleyball," said Roger Crosley, coordinator of athletic operations. "One of the things that limited what we could offer before was that without our own facilities we'd have to look around for places to play. Now that we have a place to play we'd like to maximize its usage."
The timing of the construction coincided with volleyball-related expansion by the Great Northeast Athletic Conference. Crosley said the GNAC decided to sponsor men's volleyball as a conference sport about two years ago, asking all members to put teams together if they could. The 2009 season will be the second sponsored by the GNAC, after last year's inaugural campaign.
The new team's head coach, Craig LeTourneau, said he's excited that men's volleyball has been added to the college's athletic roster.
"I think men's volleyball is a great sport," LeTourneau said. "It's a great combination of athleticism, power, agility. It has everything you're looking for in athletics rolled into one."
Letourneau said the New England region, and more specifically the New England Collegiate Volleyball Association, of which the GNAC is a part, is one of the best areas in the country for men's volleyball. He said local teams Rivier College and Springfield College are two of the best schools around. Rivier College is part of the GNAC conference.
This year will be LeTourneau's second year with the college. He has coached the women's team for the past two seasons, reaching the semifinals in the GNAC tournament twice.
LeTourneau, who coached men's volleyball on the high school level, explained the men's game is very different from the women's.
"Men, they're usually more physically gifted," he said. "It's definitely a game of power more so than finesse. Blocking is more important because the ball is coming at a higher velocity. With women, each team will have one or two [players] that can bomb the ball. With men, all the players do that."
Sophomore setter Dean Dimitruk said he thinks the team will have a difficult start this season.
"My expectations aren't too high," the film production major said. "It's hard as a first-year team. I expect we'll be competitive but we'll probably have some slow starts. We haven't gelled together yet [as a team], but we can only go up, there is no down."
The team currently has 11 players on its roster, although more may join by the time the season starts in mid-January. The team has been holding non-traditional season practices twice a week since mid-November.
Freshman setter Steve Selnick said he's enjoyed his time with the team so far.
"We're in pre-season right now," the broadcast journalism major said. "We get six or seven guys at practice . we have three or four guys who don't have paperwork or are away. They're definitely a great group of guys. The ones who haven't played before are catching on quick."
Interest in the team was raised over the past year via a series of methods. Last year, the athletic department sent out a feeler e-mail to the general student body, and they also advertised the team at the organization fair, among other efforts. Selnick said he found out about the team while on a tour during his senior year of high school.
Crosley said the primary reason for the expansion of the athletic department is to give the students, athletes and non-athletes alike, more outlets to enjoy their collegiate experience.
"We hope to win the GNAC and get the auto-bid into the national tournaments, give our student-athletes that kind of exposure," he said. "But primarily our goal is to give our student-athletes a good competitive experience, and to give the spectators that follow them a good spectator experience."
With the addition of the men's volleyball team, the college now has one more men's team than women's team. Because of Title IX, if the school is to add another team, it will most likely be a women's team.
Title IX is a recent federal mandate that encourages institutions of higher education to provide an equal number of athletic opportunities for both men and women. There are currently no plans to add another team in the near future.
LeTourneau said it could be a few years before Emerson is competitive in men's volleyball, but he told the players he is confident it will happen eventually.
"I told the freshmen I want to compete in the GNAC [tournament] their senior year, and I think that's do-able," he said. "Because of Emerson's stature, we can recruit nationally. Emerson is the number-one school in the country for what it does, and high school kids know that. This is something they'll be looking at."