Westerners Rush East Seeking (Blue and) Gold
February 08, 2011
The California Gold Rush of 1849 featured tens of thousands of people flocking to California to seek their fortunes mining gold. It was the largest migration in the United States. Transversely, since the Emmanuel men's volleyball program's inception in 2002, the Saints have profited from their own band of "forty-niners." A nationwide recruitment effort resulted in a wealth of men's volleyball players coming East to seek the "gold" of an Emmanuel education. The Saints men's volleyball program has capitalized on this eastern migration, as Emmanuel boasted an unprecedented 27-win season in 2010 and is currently ranked among the nation's Top 15 Division III teams.
With 17 players on the Emmanuel squad this year and 13 of them hailing from outside Massachusetts, the Saints are fortunate to have six players with hometowns west of the Mississippi River, including five individuals from the "Golden State" of California. The six westerners include: Curtis Abram '11 (San Luis Obispo, Calif.), Cam Todd '11 (Los Angeles, Calif.), Tyson Rietz '11 (Granite Bay, Calif.), Nick Updike '13 (Manhattan Beach, Calif.), Jim Sutherland '11 (Concord, Calif.) and Keoni Rabaino '11 (Tucson, Ariz.).These six individuals were a part of Emmanuel's record-setting team in 2010, which made the program's third appearance in the North East Collegiate Volleyball Association (NECVA) Tournament. The 2010 squad was ranked amid the nation's Top 15 for several weeks during the season and Emmanuel advanced to the GNAC Finals for the third-consecutive year.
The Saints currently boast far more west coast players than any other team in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference. Clearly, the trend has been advantageous for Emmanuel, as four of the Saints' six starters this year are from California and the program has met with unprecedented success. With Emmanuel's decision to open its doors to male students merely a decade ago, the College's enrollment has more than tripled. Upon the coeducational transition, the Emmanuel men's volleyball team has evolved from its inaugural season in 2002 to a nationally ranked powerhouse. Undoubtedly, competing for the up-and-coming Saints' team was of paramount importance when these westerners chose Emmanuel to pursue their education.
In doing so, they tacked on a great deal of responsibility and commitment to the already difficult decision of selecting a college, opting to live bi-coastally for their four-year careers. These student-athletes trek home for holidays, school vacations and summer breaks, facing tiresome days of transcontinental travel, the burden of jet lag and outrageous airline fees.
So, why play volleyball at a small college 3,000 plus miles from home? For these young men, the answer is simple, in yet a complex way. It's just the right combination. Emmanuel has the community-feel of a small college, combined with the opportunity to live in a big city, as well as great academics and extraordinary volleyball. The amalgamation makes Emmanuel an incomparable fit for these students and allows their collegiate experience to be nothing short of special.
"The atmosphere within the city is unlike anything else I have experienced," said Sutherland. "By atmosphere I mean two things, the culture created by the abundance of sports-crazed fans and the high level of academic drive and intellect."
"Just having such a diverse city of personalities, people, and history really makes the whole experience worth it," noted Todd.
"There is always something to do here, never a moment without action," said Updike, whose sister also ventured east, choosing to play her collegiate volleyball at nearby Tufts University.
When asked what they miss most about the West, in addition to their families, the overwhelming response factored in the weather. They love Boston, but miss the sand, sun and surf of the Pacific. "We don't really have seasons back home, but it is nice being able to experience them all here," said Updike.
Admittedly, the east coast culture is a bit different as well. People move at a different pace in Boston, compared to in Southern California. "Home is a way more laid-back, beach-oriented society where everything revolves around the sand and sun," added Updike.
For these young men so far from home, the tough transition to the Boston weather and culture was made easier by being a part of Emmanuel's close-knit community, accentuated by the solid bonds formed playing together on a successful collegiate athletic team. "My Emmanuel education isn't relegated only to the classroom," said Todd. "By playing volleyball here, I have forged great relationships with guys that will be my best friends forever. We've learned about taking responsibility, teamwork, trusting others and accountability. Those are the intangibles that a classroom cannot always provide for you."
Emmanuel's first-year Head Coach Adam Martel, who recently returned from a recruiting trip in Northern California, plans to continue to concentrate a great deal of his recruiting efforts in the western part of the country. "Volleyball has been part of California's culture for generations and subsequently, athletes from California seem to start playing earlier, giving them an advantage. We're proud of the recruiting network that we've built in both northern and southern California and are looking forward to continue recruiting well from those areas."
The NCAA's recent decision to approve a Division III Championship in Men's Volleyball is cause for even more excitement. Based on this landmark January 15th decision, the Saints will be among the 57 programs that now have a chance to compete for a national championship in 2012.
"The NCAA's decision to allow a Division III Championship in Men's Volleyball is monumental," said Martel. "It's really a tribute to the hard work of the players, coaches and administrators who have spent countless hours advocating for our sport."
When Martel's six west coast players were asked where they plan to live upon graduation from Emmanuel, some said they hope to stay in Boston, while others will definitely head back west. Either way, they vowed to make the most of their time at Emmanuel. "When I look back at my time at Emmanuel in Boston, one of the best cities, I don't want to think of stuff I could have done. I want memories. I will never think about the homework nights," Updike vowed. "I will always remember the nights with my buds and the team!"
Without question, they feel as though their transcontinental journey was absolutely worth it.
"It will be great that I will be able to say, ‘I played for a top 10 team in the country.' And that's a great accomplishment for our program," said Todd. "But in the end, no one really cares about the stats or rankings. We care about the friendships, relationships and qualities that have been brought to us through this experience."
While so many flocked westward just a century and a half ago, it seems that now Emmanuel has developed its own unique magnetism in drawing prospects east. With the wealth of opportunity available at this small urban college, the six westerners on the 2011 Saints' volleyball squad will be among the many who will prosper from the fortune of the Emmanuel (Blue and) Gold.