Sonoma State Club Volleyball photo Though it finished last in its league division, Sonoma State turned around its season at a Las Vegas tournament two weeks ahead of nationals.Sonoma State Club Volleyball photo
Though it finished last in its league division, Sonoma State turned around its season at a Las Vegas tournament two weeks ahead of nationals.

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Adding to Sonoma State’s reputation as a big-time volleyball school is the men’s club team, a perennial national title contender.

Completing the team’s most successful season since winning a national championship three years ago, Sonoma State reached the small college title game. Finishing where the squad had been ranked, Sonoma State fell only once in nine matches at the national tournament.

“It was a great run. We worked really hard to get to that spot,” said Zak Beltz, a middle hitter from Santa Cruz.

With only Beltz graduating, Sonoma State will go into next season aiming for another national title.

“As long as we stay healthy we have a great shot at winning it,” said Ryan Petulla, an outside hitter from San Jose. “We’ve got a lot of depth. I’m really excited about next season.”

Known for a women’s team that regularly contends for the NCAA Division II national tournament, Sonoma State boasts a men’s club squad that consistently wins. Sonoma State also has a women’s club volleyball team.

The 2010 national title banner in the Sonoma State recreation center is a reminder of the club’s status as a top small college team.

The men’s steady success is notable because sport clubs are student-run organizations lacking paid coaches to organize teams and seasons. Players typically come from competitive high school programs in regions where the prep game is big.

Each year features rugged competition in the Northern California Collegiate Volleyball League, several tournaments, and the season-ending National Collegiate Club Volleyball Championships.

One of only two small college teams in their league, Sonoma State is tested often by deeper, stronger opponents. This season Sonoma State was last in its league division with UC Berkeley taking the top spot.

But the team turned around the season at a Las Vegas tournament two weeks ahead of nationals. “The team just came together. We kind of realized we could play with anyone,” Petulla said.

While the team expected to play better earlier, Sonoma State finally played consistent defense to complement a strong attack.

“We just got momentum and kept going,” Beltz said. “We just finally worked together as a team, and it was the fact that we really wanted to win.”

Ranked second among small colleges going into the national tournament, Sonoma State was confident of a good result. Still, players said they didn’t expect to reach the championship game.

Played over three days at the Dallas Convention Center, the tournament demands physical and mental toughness. Sonoma State was among 48 teams in Division II with play on dozens of courts under one roof.

After going 3-0 on Day 1 and 2-0 the second day, Sonoma State won three consecutive matches to reach the title contest on Day 3. Sonoma State defeated defending national champion Wisconsin-La Crosse in the semifinals. “We definitely saw a lot of good competition,” Beltz said.

The lone match loss on the weekend was to Messiah College in the championship, the type of tight contest Sonoma State had been winning.

“It was a fantastic finish to the season,” Petulla said.