Club sports are offered for college students to continue playing the sports they love at a competitive level. Over the past few seasons, new leaders and founders have developed club sports to be more competitive and serious. This season comes with high expectations and hopes after several teams had stellar performances in the spring.
Over the last year, VCU club baseball went from being the doormat of the conference to conference champions and a top-10 team in the country.
Last fall was when the team turned its attitude around, thanks to leadership by senior outfielder/second baseman John Lyons-Harrison and senior pitcher/shortstop Teddy Leinbach.
“We try to set an example,” Leinbach said. “We’ve always made club (baseball) a serious thing.”
This season, VCU added 12 new players to the roster, especially with pitchers. The pitching staff went from three last season to seven this season.
“Last year we had a problem with pitching depth,” Lyons-Harrison said. “We like to compete in tournaments so we came into this season with the mindset that we want to fill out the bullpen and try to develop guys into pitchers. This year we decided to really focus on the pitching aspect of the team.”
Last fall, the team finished with a 4-3 record. In the spring, the team finished 17-4, with a World Series appearance and as conference champions.
VCU won the first games of the series against SUNY Brockport and Eastern Kentucky University, but fell to the University of Saint Louis 10-5 in the third round.
Leinbach was the ace of the staff and went 5-0 with a 2.33 ERA. Logging 33.2, the Durham native led the team in innings pitched and believes he can do it again this season.
“At the end of the year in the regional tournament I pitched 13 and 2/3 innings, so it definitely got stronger as the year went on,” said Leinbach.
Lyons-Harrison is the president of this year’s program and led the league last fall in dingers.
“I just try to make solid contact with the ball and get guys on base,” said Lyons-Harrison. “I don’t really try to hit home runs. It’s about having a good approach at the plate. I just try to hit the ball hard and see what happens.”
This season began with a doubleheader against George Mason University on Oct 10. VCU won the first game 5-0 and tied the second 4-4.
This season’s goal is to have a winning season so they can make it back to the World Series in the spring, and potentially win it all.
“We got red hot out of nowhere in the spring and I think we can carry that over pretty nicely into this year,” said Lyons-Harrison.
Wrestling has always been a huge part of junior Yassin Semmami’s life. After being a ranked wrestler in high school and captain of his team, Semmami wanted to continue wrestling in college.
When Semmami arrived at VCU his freshman year he was disappointed to learn there was no wrestling club. Determined to continue what he loves, Semmami went to the clubs office with intentions of creating the club, but ran into several problems with practice space.
“We can’t practice at Cary Street and I went gym to gym asking if we could practice and every school said no,” Semmami said. “Then I went to MMA gyms and they all charged an unreasonable amount of money.”
Eventually, Semmami formed a relationship with the owner at an MMA gym and worked a deal out and finally got approved by VCU, two years later.
Last semester, the club became active, but wasn’t at the level to compete yet.
“There wasn’t anything to be a club about,” Semmami said. “We didn’t practice, we only had members that didn’t do anything. Now we’re an active club.”
This semester, the team practices regularly and gained 30 new members. The goal for this season is to focus on practicing so that next semester they can begin to compete in tournaments.
Senior Jennifer Ouk founded club basketball at VCU her sophomore year in 2013. Ouk played basketball throughout high school and wasn’t ready to give up the competitive game.
“There wasn’t an athletic organization that I felt passionate about, and it’s common sport that I’m surprised our school didn’t already offer,” Ouk said.
Ouk felt prepared to undertake a brand new club, carrying her leadership skills she learned as a varsity captain her senior year of high school.
“Being captain in high school helped me be communicable and sort of a leader in a sense of creative thinking of how to create a sense of community within the team,” Ouk said. “While being president, I learned how to be more of a mentor and advisor as well which is great.”
Last year, the team’s fall season ended with an 8-7 record, but improved to 10-4 during the spring season. This fall, two new players were added to the roster.
“I hope to improve on unity,” Ouk said. “We’re pretty close as teammates go and we all adore each other but I hope to make a bond that’s further trustworthy and strengthened off the court. In a weird way it eventually pays off in the game chemistry on the court itself.”
The season kicked off with a red robin-style tournament this weekend at Old Dominion University but results were not final by press time.
Sophia Belletti, Staff Writer
Sophia is a sophomore journalism major who writes for the Odyssey in addition to the news, sports and spectrum sections of the CT. Sophia also works in sales at Nordstrom and likes hiking and going to concerts. // Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIn