AURORA, N.Y. – The Wells College men's volleyball team, in only their second season as a program, looks to make a large stride forward in their sophomore season. With the North Eastern Athletic Conference recently adding men's volleyball teams from Keuka College, Cazenovia College and Gallaudet University, the conference now offers men's volleyball as a postseason sport and the Express will look to take full advantage of this fact come mid-April, just in time for the conference championship.
Head Coach Richard Gary, who also pilots the women's volleyball team, is looking for his team to take great strides in a conference where his second year team has a year's head start on more than one-third of their in-conference calendar. Gary has named junior C.J. Bayly (Waymart, Pa.) and freshman Derek Nipps (Turnersville, N.Y.) captains of a predominantly freshman roster.
"For such a young team, it's been vital for us to set a standard to live up to in every practice and Derek and C.J. being captains is a big part of that," explained Gary when pressed for his thoughts on his duo of captains. "They're both very different types of leaders and they complement one another in how they motivate and push the others."
With four players from last year's inaugural season returning, Gary's squad is almost a perfect balance of rookie players and "seasoned" veterans. Bayly is joined by sophomores Paul Hernon (New Hartford, N.Y.), Andrew Jacobs (Millburn, N.J) and Chris Tinozzi (Syracuse, N.Y.) as the lone four returners from last year.
Bayly, who will split setting duties with Nipps, returns just a season removed from averaging 5.15 assists per set. Additionally, Bayly posted 1.42 digs per set after notching a team-best 94 cumulatively on the year. Jacobs returns after posting 1.35 kills per set last year, hammering home 89 kills to rank second on the team. He also hammered home 39 service aces, leading the team across 66 sets played. His durability is also a welcome addition for Gary – he was one of two players to see action in all 66 sets on the year.
Hernon was a force at the front of the net for the Express, posting a team-best 36 blocks for Wells. He was also accurate with his attacks, posting a team-best .161 hitting percentage after only posting 24 errors in 224 total chances. Tinozzi, a defensive specialist, recorded almost an ace per set, converting 16 of his serve attempts in only 21 sets.
Nipps was named captain as a freshman only one year removed from his performance at Washington Township High School in Sewell, N.J. where he earned All-State merits during his senior season. Additionally, Nipps locked down All-Conference honors as both a junior and a senior for the Minutemen.
"Derek must be a glutton for punishment because he spent the entire fall on the bench with me during the women's season, and now as a captain with the men, we continue our daily banter about how to make the team better. He's tireless, obsessive about improving the team and a real character off the court – everything I look for in a player," said Gary.
Joining Nipps as freshman on the roster include Tyler Wiley (Dover, Pa.), John Farruggia (Mt. Markham, N.Y.), Winston Pappoe (Bronx, N.Y.), and J.J. Podczasy (Macungie, Pa.).Wiley, a libero, played volleyball for the Eagles of Dover High School under Head Coach Christopher Kennedy and will see backline action for the Express. With the Eagles, Wiley made back-to-back appearances in the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association tournament as both a junior and a senior.
"Tyler's high school and club experiences make him a great fit for this team," remarked Gary when asked about his libero. "His confidence and calm, consistent and focused play has meshed well with what we're building. I could see him earning some recognition as he continues to get the hang of the college game."
Farruggia, a three sport athlete for the Mustangs of Mt. Markham Central High School, was part of an undefeated volleyball team as a senior, posting 18 kills, eight digs and four blocks in the Section III Class C/D boys volleyball final against Sauquoit Valley. Pappoe played soccer and volleyball for Harry S. Truman High School in Bronx, N.Y. while Podczasy attended Emmaus High School in Emmaus, Pa. and is one of many volleyball players in his family.
"John has adjusted faster to college play than I expected," said Gary. "Solid focus and consistent effort combined with an understanding on how to win make him a valuable member of the team – he also makes up for his size difference by outworking everyone on the court. Additionally, [Pappoe] has become a great utility player for us – with his ability to play middle, outside and right side, he is essential for such a small squad."
According to Gary, Podczasy has moved into the offense and adapted to the system very quickly and is becoming a "go-to" attacker.
"We're hoping to get him to be more rounded in his efforts, but it never hurts to have somebody who loves to bang the ball."
It is ultimately the goal of the Head Coach to see his team both qualify and advance in postseason play, but he realizes that setting a strong foundation this year is important to the program going forward.
"I'm very impatient about how I think we should be progressing, but when I step back, it's pretty amazing to see how much the guys have begun to define what I call a 'Wells Experience'," remarked Gary. "If we can make a habit of putting in consistent effort and focus, make our practices as competitive as possible, and not be afraid to make aggressive mistakes, I think we'll start to see some positive results."
The Express return to action Saturday, Feb. 9 as they face-off against Sarah Lawrence College in a doubleheader beginning at 6:00 p.m. on the road. Stay up to date with the latest news directly from the Wells College athletic department by "liking" us on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/WellsExpress) and subscribing to our Twitter account (http://www.twitter.com/WellsExpress).