Some of the young men were high school stars while others cobbled together a pick-up game on the sandy shores of Lake Michigan. What they all had in common was the drive to obtain a high-quality education paired with the desire to play their sport of choice—volleyball—at the collegiate level. In January they came together and made history as Illinois Tech Scarlet Hawks in the university’s first-ever men’s NCAA varsity volleyball game. Little matter that the team lost that inaugural set against Lakeland College by a score of 3–0. Head Coach Katie Zulandt knows the fledging team is capable of athletic greatness through sheer effort alone.
“If we practice for two hours they’ll stay for two more hours and continue practicing without me, which is more than you could ask for as a coach,” she says. “We have 14 guys on the team right now, which is pretty impressive considering that none of them have been recruited to come here and play.”
Alex Babusci (ARCE 4th year), who also counts baseball and basketball as his go-to sports, and Michael Drews (PHYS 4th year), who played varsity volleyball at Glenbard North High School, are leading the new team. Now in her second season at Illinois Tech, Zulandt says that the opportunity to help shape the men’s team as the university transitions to NCAA Division III is especially exciting.
“Chicago is a great volleyball town and has some awesome Division III programs. I want Illinois Tech to be competitive with those teams, and we’re moving in that direction,” says Zulandt, who also is head coach of the more established women’s volleyball team. “It’s very true that the kids here are driven; that’s why you’ll see our library packed on the weekends. They know they have to work their butts off to get what they want—and they do it. Illinois Tech students are the same kids on the volleyball court. They want everything to be perfect and sometimes they mess up—but it’s good to see them work through it.”