Many high school students aspiring to be D-I college athletes often direct their attention to recruiters.
But senior Derek Guimond took his own path to joining the men’s volleyball team.
After an unsuccessful tryout his freshman year, Guimond spent most of his undergrad playing volleyball on Loyola’s club team. At a school that hosts one of the top teams in the country, club volleyball is still played at a high level.
“It was pretty competitive. I have a lot of friends there that come from a high culture of volleyball,” said Guimond. “They kind of revitalized everything for me.”
Coming in to this year’s season, the Ramblers found themselves in a unique situation. One of the middle players, Owen McAndrews, was switching to opposite, which left a gap in the lineup. Coach Shane Davis turned to the club team to try and fill this void.
“We have a really good relationship with the club team,” said Davis. “We take the time to go over there every year to watch them to see if there’s that hidden gem.”
Guimond was one of these hidden gems. After three years of playing at the club level he felt ready for another chance at playing D-I volleyball.
“We keep each other at least at a marginal level of volleyball,” Guimond said. “When I tried out [my freshman year] I was pretty bad, but once you’re playing [volleyball] all the time you get a lot better.”
Davis and the rest of the team noticed those improvements, and Guimond was offered a spot at middle for his senior year at Loyola.
“He couldn’t stop smiling. He was really excited,” Davis said. “He was just sitting there like, ‘Yes!’ and then he just kind of took off. I’m not even sure if the meeting was over. He just kind of walked off.”
Although it was an exciting transition to play D-1, it wasn’t the easiest one. Guimond’s new team was a much bigger time commitment and required a new level of organization and time management. The practices and time spent in the weight room were both physically and mentally exhausting. Guimond said sometimes it can be hard to balance a rigorous workout schedule with a full load of classes.
“School still comes first, but it’s hard to put your heart and your soul into two different things. It’s definitely a challenge,” he said.
Having a few years at Loyola under his belt, Guimond has been able to maintain a significant role in all of his commitments.
Senior teammate Matt Phillips said even though it’s Guimond’s first year on the team, he’s been able to successfully fill the middle position.
“Having him there when some of our other middles are out, he’s there to fill the role for practice to remain just as competitive. He is able to compete at the same level as all the other middles,” said Phillips.
Guimond has also managed to fill a spot off the court for the Ramblers. Coach Davis said he fits in really well with the team while still adding his own flavor to the team mix.
“He’s just a really good guy. He’s a great representation of our team,” Davis said. “He’s a little unique. He has his own style.”
Davis remembers a tournament in California when the team was on its way to the gym for a workout.
“[Guimond] comes out of the hotel with this flowered hat on, and I was thinking, ‘what the heck.’ [Assistant Coach] Kris Berzins said, ‘You look like you’re on vacation. You need to dial it in,’” Davis said.
Guimond has acclimated to the Ramblers’ style and said he has loved every minute of being on the team. He has found a new home in the new level of volleyball.
“I’m at a loss for words when I think about it,” Guimond said. “It’s a challenge, but I feel like I’m living life right now. I love these guys. They’re my family.”
The last time the men’s volleyball team had a walk-on player from the club team was Berzins back in 2007. With the success of Guimond and the team’s relationship with the club program, Davis plans to continue to reach out for any possible Rambler additions in the future.