The McKendree University men’s volleyball program will make a historic trip east this weekend to begin a 10-match road trip.
For the first time in school history, a McKendree athletic team will be facing an Ivy League institution as the Bearcats will head to New Jersey to open up its road trip Friday night at Princeton University. McKendree will close out its short stay in the Garden State on Saturday night with a contest at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
The Princeton match was one of the first nonconference contests on the McKendree men’s volleyball schedule for the 2016 season and represents the continued evolution of the scheduling process for numerous Bearcat athletic programs since the move to NCAA Division II status. The McKendree men’s volleyball team plays in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA), which is regarded as one of the top NCAA Division I-II volleyball leagues in the nation. One of its league members, Loyola of Chicago, has won the last two NCAA national collegiate volleyball championships. This season, the Bearcats will square off against 13 NCAA Division I institutions on the volleyball court.
“It is impressive to see what our coaches and programs have achieved in the area of scheduling since becoming a part of NCAA Division II,” said Chuck Brueggemann, director of athletics at McKendree. “This is especially evident with our men’s volleyball program. We are proud to be a part of one of the most prestigious volleyball conferences in the country, playing night in and night out against the top Division I programs. To be aligned with the likes of Loyola and Ohio State (also MIVA members) speaks volumes about the type of competition we are facing on a weekly basis. To have this opportunity to play Princeton further illustrates this evolution occurring within our programs.”
McKendree, which won just one game in its first season as MIVA members in 2015, have already won three league contests under the direction of head coach Nickie Sanlin, who was tasked with building the Bearcats’ men’s volleyball program from scratch in the fall of 2012. After guiding the Bearcats to eight wins in their inaugural season of 2014, McKendree improved to 11-19 last season while facing MIVA competition for the first time.
Among the Bearcats’ three league wins this year is a four-set triumph at home over NCAA Division I IPFW.
Sanlin also holds the distinction of being one of just two female head coaches at the NCAA national collegiate (Division I and II) men’s volleyball level, which is comprised of 46 institutions across the country. The other is Ali Oliver of Holy Names University (Calif.). Sanlin is certainly not a newcomer to coaching male players. After her playing career at Marshall University, she coach several boy’s club volleyball programs in the St. Louis metro
area, and has been involved with the St. Louis Performance volleyball club. In addition, Sanlin spent two seasons as the boy’s volleyball coach at Althoff Catholic High School in Belleville prior to her arrival at McKendree.
While Sanlin does see herself in a unique role, she relishes the opportunity to build the McKendree team and to see her players grow along with the program. “It’s exciting to see the young men that we have brought here to McKendree to play men’s volleyball,” said Sanlin. “They get to know my coaching style pretty quickly. I can be hard-nosed if they need it, but if they need someone to listen, I’m there as well. To see their development and growth over that period is great for all of us.”
And Sanlin also sees the importance in the upcoming trip to Princeton. “It’s really important for us to have this opportunity to play Princeton,” said Sanlin. “They are one of the most prestigious universities in the country, and they play in a top-tier conference themselves in the EIVA (Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association), which adds to our strength of schedule. It will be great exposure for our program, and will be a great experience for our players. We can’t wait to get there.”
McKendree will also have matches at Division I members Grand Canyon University (March 11 and 12), IPFW (March 25) and Ball State University (March 26) before returning to home April 1 and 2 to host Ohio State in a pair of MIVA matches.