After finishing in ninth place for three straight years before a 19th-place finish in 2015, the Sacramento State men’s volleyball club is hungry to bring a national championship to campus.
Sac State’s success in the last half decade is largely in part to head coach Sukhjit ‘Suji’ Dhillon, who played for the club for three years and then took over the coaching duties after graduating in 2008. Dhillon, who has a coaching record of 216-139, has helped transform the team into national contenders on a yearly basis.
“After three straight top-10 finishes, we all expected to be there again last year,” Dhillon said. “After finishing 19th we definitely learned that we can’t take anything for granted. This year we’ll come back more focused and driven.”
Another part of the team’s success is two-time All-American and team captain John Fluette. Fluette, an environmental science major, enters his sixth year with the club after being recruited to come play out of Antelope High School by Dhillon.
“It’s kind of hard to advertise club sports because it’s a lot different than NCAA sports,” Fluette said. “I knew I was already coming to Sac State so it made everything kind of easy.”
Fluette was one of the youngest members on the club when he first joined but has since grown to become one of the veteran leaders on the team.
“Looking back at it, our team has grown a lot,” Fluette said. “Everyone is willing to help each other, we’ve developed a consistency and we’re such a tight knit group now.”
Both Fluette and Dhillon use the team’s remarkable run in the 2013 nationals, where the club qualified for the gold bracket for the first time since 2002 and finished ninth, as motivation to achieve more.
“We were playing University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh for ninth place in front of a crowd roughly around 450 people,” Fluette said. “They are one of the most notorious teams in the nation and beating them was pretty awesome.”
Volleyball club President Frank Mammano, who enters his third season, hasn’t been around as long as Fluette, but still has felt the team’s focused presence in the past couple years to bring the program its first national championship since 1997.
“This year I feel we could win out in our league and go on a great run at nationals,” Mammano said.
This “tight-knit group” enters this season after only losing two players due to graduation, so Fluette expects the club to pick up right where they left off.
“Everyone’s coming back with pretty high expectations and using how well we meshed at the end of last season and bringing that into this season,” Fluette said. “Hopefully we can get off to a better start this season than we did last year.”
The club did just that on Oct. 23 as the team participated in the Colberg Classic at UC Davis and went undefeated, taking first place in the tournament.
“What really impressed me the most was our players’ ability to play different positions and still excel at high level,” Dhillon said.
Sac State’s next match will be in Los Angeles on Saturday against UCLA.