Aurora University now has a total of 22 NCAA Division III athletic programs available to its students, and most recently added men’s volleyball to its repertoire of sports. During a recent interview with Head Coach Rob Wolter, he spoke on the expansion of men’s volleyball across the country, the abundance of athletes but lack of opportunities in the Midwest and said, “the growth and landscape of men’s volleyball has changed so much.” Wolter has spent more than a decade watching this sport transform over the years, and coaching numerous high caliber athletes. One thing he spoke on was the rapid expansion of men’s volleyball in the midwest, and how in past years there was only three Division III teams in the country. Around this time there was no official national championship, and it was difficult for athletes to find opportunities to play their sport. Coach Wolter started coaching men’s volleyball eight years ago at Carthage College while working toward his master’s, and prior to this he spent five years at Vassar College. He stated, “ Aurora was intriguing for several reasons, one was to be able to have the challenge of building a program from the ground up, where you can bring in the type of athletes and culture that we’re looking for in a men’s volleyball team, and not having to worry about changing an entire program.”
After speaking with Coach Wolter on his experience with men’s volleyball throughout the course of his life, it began to seem like this is far more than just a job for him. “The club scene for volleyball around here is enormous. We have a lot of highly talented volleyball athletes readily available at our disposal in the Chicagoland area. And there’s really not a lot of opportunity for a lot of these guys to play at the highest level.” said Coach Wolter during an interview. It is very difficult for a coach to start a new athletics program from scratch, but Coach Wolter has a passion and drive to build the Aurora University Men’s Volleyball team to the highest caliber possible.
I also had the opportunity to catch up with AU Men’s Volleyball Graduate Assistant, Luca Wanek, who hails from Germany. Luca played volleyball at Limestone College in South Carolina for four years, and decided to coach at Aurora University because of Coach Wolter and he also likes the challenge of building a new team. “It definitely has its advantages and differences. For differences, the kids are new to being on a team with no upperclassmen to provide them with guidance. So we have to make sure they’re working hard and going to classes, but we have the ability to build the culture that we want here at AU.” said Luca during a recent interview. Luca also stated that he immediately felt that Aurora University would be a great fit for him during his search for a GA position. Having a graduate assistant on the coaching staff of any team is beneficial because it provides athletes with a younger coach that they can relate to on a more personal level, but also provides them with an active role model in their lives. If you were to see Luca, you would automatically assume that he is a beast when it comes to volleyball, he not only coaches these young men, but he also leads by example.
The combination of Coach Wolter, and GA Luca Wanek provide a great base for a new team to build themselves around. The men’s volleyball coaching staff also consists of Assistant Coach Andrew Palmer who joined AU in 2014 as an assistant for the women’s volleyball program, but he will now join the men’s program for their inaugural season. Palmer also brings an excess of experience to the men’s program, with appearances in two CACC championships, and finishing the 2017 season with a #9 NAIA ranking during his time at Robert Morris University prior to coaching for the Spartans. Although I did not get the opportunity to speak with Palmer personally, his bio speaks for itself. Palmer graduated from West Aurora High School in 2006 and clearly has a passion for the expansion of men’s volleyball in the Midwest just like Coaches Wolter and Wanek. With a diverse group of coaches that all have a passion for the sport and its athletes, one can only expect this program to have a revolutionary inaugural season. “A goal for us, and me personally is obviously to win a conference championship, to play in postseason play. But as a first year program I think those are things that are down the road and we have to make sure we build a foundation and the essential building blocks of the program that will help us ensure that we get to that point. Right now it’s about training our athletes the right way, and getting them to understand the regiment for college athletics in terms of; managing their time and budgeting their schedule so that they are going to classes and getting the appropriate about of rest. As well as lifting and strength training and getting the most out of their time in the gym practicing.” said Coach Wolter when speaking on his goals for this year. Wolter also said, “I think that if we can establish these things and set the right tone that the results will come.” Coach Wolter has a very positive outlook on this season, and commends his freshman class’s work ethic and talent that they bring to Aurora University.
It is without a doubt that the Aurora University Men’s Volleyball team will build itself into a very competitive NCAA DIII program. Spartans Men’s Volleyball begins competition on January 19th against North Central College in Naperville, IL and it will be a great season for this team regardless of the results because of the opportunity provided to these athletes and the coaching staff.
For more information regarding the men’s volleyball program here at Aurora University log on to: athletics.aurora.edu
Written By: Steven I. Ruffin