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The Lakeland College men's volleyball program will switch from club status to an NCAA Division III varsity sport beginning with the 2013-14 school year, the college announced today. It brings Lakeland's total number of varsity sports to 18.
The Muskies will become members of the Continental Volleyball Conference, joining Dominican (Ill.) University and Marymount (Va.) University as new members of the NCAA Division III conference in 2013-14. The move to the varsity level comes after Lakeland has had great success with its club men's volleyball team, which was established in 1996.
"The Lakeland men's volleyball program has proven to be successful at the club level for a number of years," said Head Coach Chris Brandt, who is in his first year as the team's coach. "The combination of the success of our program and the growth of Division III men's volleyball, especially in the Midwest, makes this the perfect time to make the transition."
The men's volleyball program at Lakeland has competed at the club level since 1997. In that time, the Muskies became a national power among club teams, winning the National Collegiate Volleyball Federation title in 2008 over Illinois and falling to Ohio State in the national championship match in 2010. Lakeland finished in the top 10 nationally nine times over a 10-year span from 2001-10, competing against club teams from many NCAA Division I schools such as Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Boston College and Long Beach State.
"Becoming a member of the CVC is great for us," Brandt said. "The CVC is arguably the strongest conference in Division III, which will allow us to play top tier competition throughout the year. With our strong foundation of current players and a strong recruiting class, we expect to compete with some of the best teams in the country from year one."
Men's volleyball is a recent addition as an NCAA Division III championship sport, staging its first national championship in 2011. The sport is growing in the Midwest and nationally at the Division III level, with more than 70 schools now sponsoring the sport.
As Brandt noted, Lakeland already has many players in place that will be able to compete next year. With the number of collegiate men's volleyball programs in the region playing the sport, scheduling and staying within the region also will not be an issue.
"With the growth of the sport at the Division III level coupled with Lakeland's strong tradition as a club program, this is a natural move for our men's volleyball program and for the Lakeland athletics program," Winslow said. "It also fits in perfectly with Dr. Grandillo's plans to strengthen Lakeland as an institution as well as a force in Division III athletics."
Lakeland becomes the third Northern Athletics Conference member school to add a varsity men's volleyball program, joining Milwaukee School of Engineering and Dominican. All three schools are members of the NAC in all sports sponsored by the conference.
The addition of Lakeland, Dominican and Marymount brings the CVC's membership to 13 schools. Lakeland joins MSOE as well as Cairn (Pa.) University, Carthage College, Fontbonne (Mo.) University, Eastern Mennonite (Va.) University, Juniata (Pa.) College, College of Mount Saint Joseph (Ind.), University of California-Santa Cruz, Stevenson (Md.) University and Thiel (Pa.) College to form one of the largest men's volleyball conferences in any division. The conference is divided into East and West divisions, minimizing travel among conference members.
"The CVC and our core members are excited to renew our commitment to one another and to support the growth of Division III men's volleyball with the addition of these three new programs," said CVC Commissioner Gary Williams, who is also the associate athletic director at Carthage. "The goal from day one was to create a conference that promoted nationally competitive volleyball, a commitment to supporting the growth of the sport in Division III, and to provide a schedule and conference structure that was fiscally sound and promotes the welfare of our student athletes. This expansion furthers each of these goals and we are tremendously excited for the future."