News - From Green to Great: Four Years of Men’s Volleyball at G.U.

From Green to Great: Four Years of Men’s Volleyball at G.U.

by Rachel Heston-Davis From Green to Great: Four Years of Men’s Volleyball at G.U.

The 2018-2019 school year marks the end of an era as five special G.U. men’s volleyball players prepare to pass the torch to the next generation.

Johnny Milabu, Tanner Smith, Nick Corrigan, Kyle Ward and Peter Binder—all Class of 2019—arrived at G.U. as freshmen volleyball recruits four years ago, enthusiastic to help build a brand-new program.

Now on the cusp of graduation, these five young men have stayed with G.U. volleyball for their entire college careers. They’ve seen growth and triumph on the court. Even more important; they’ve seen growth within themselves thanks to this remarkable team.

Rough Start, Promising Result

When the team stepped up to the net as Panthers for the first time, most of them were green to collegiate-level sports. Current G.U. Athletics Director Tom Ackerman had just formed the team and manned it with mostly freshmen. Ackerman knew that without many experienced college-level players to guide new arrivals, a lot of work lay ahead for the whole group.

“It was challenging to get that many freshmen to work together and move in the right direction as a team,” he says.

Johnny Milabu, current team captain, remembers that, too. “Some players had to change from playing their preferred position to a new position in order to help the team win,” he says.

Peter Binder recalls the disappointment of being asked to “accept a role that didn’t always involve being on court.” These types of adjustments stretched teammates out of their comfort zones from day one. Adding to the challenge, they began the season with a less-than-ideal number of players.

Without persistence and commitment, these factors on a fledgling team could have spelled a bad first season. But to Ackerman’s delight, his players were up for hard work. They became “a very cohesive unit by the end of the season.” 

“I was not interested in starting slow, and I wanted us to be successful from day one,” he says.

They ended that first season with a 16-11 record.

“We were able to finish ahead of all new programs in a very tough conference,” Ackerman says, “and we were able to have a winning season in year one. That is unheard of.”

“This was a great way to start off a program because it showed that our potential was amazingly high,” Milabu says.

Four Years of On Court Learning

Clearing those first-year hurdles was certainly a learning experience, and the learning didn’t stop there. Today, the charter members of men’s volleyball at G.U. look back on all they’ve learned.

Behave with love and composure. “We understand that we are representing the school when we play, and we [want] to set a high standard of how our players are perceived. We shake hands with players and officials after every match, we clean up after ourselves on the bench and locker room, and we make sure to thank our fans.” –Johnny Milabu

Ask for help. “I’ve learned that it’s okay to ask for help from others, especially my friends and teammates, instead of trying to do or fix everything myself…some problems and challenges arise in games that I can’t take care of just by myself.” –Tanner Smith

Redefine “success.” “Success does not always come from your own personal achievements, but from the ability to build relationships and work as a team. By working, overcoming hardships and growing together, we have all been successful.” –Peter Binder

Dedicate your work as worship. “Instead of playing for myself or my parents, or to impress other people, I’ve been able to learn how to play for an audience of one…and that audience is God.” –Johnny Milabu

Embrace humility. “My time at Greenville has shown that there is no need for me, or anyone else, to boast about their abilities.” –Tanner Smith

Together G.U.

panther volleyball playersMost of all, the players learned the importance of coming together as a unit.

“I think the biggest improvement since our first year has been the relations of all the players on the team toward each other,” says Smith.

Many factors contributed to team cohesion, including—some may say oddly—three turnovers of head coach in four years. Milabu explains that the leadership shift “forced us to solidify as a unit.” He and the other players realized that “the team isn’t the coaching staff, but it’s the players. We are the team, we influence the team culture, and therefore if we can take care of each other we can succeed together despite the obstacles.”

As they prepare to hand leadership of the team off to younger players, these five men have no doubts about the ongoing success of G.U. men’s volleyball.

“Our future has never looked brighter,” Binder says of the team.

Tom Ackerman looks forward to the program’s future, as well, especially as new head coach Chad Nelson takes over this year. “The program is in excellent hands,” Ackerman says of Nelson.

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Rules disallow Division III universities like G.U. from offering athletic scholarships. Collectively, these five volleyball players have received 15 donor-funded merit and needs-based scholarships during their years at Greenville University. Thank you for giving.

This story was published on February 07, 2019

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