The UofL Men’s Volleyball Club just made campus history.

The team won the National Collegiate Volleyball Federation (NCVF) Division 1-AA National Championship last weekend in St. Louis, becoming the first club sport at UofL to win a national championship. 

The club started just three years ago, which makes the victory that much sweeter, said Sam Bibelhauser, club founder and a fourth-year Speed School student.

“That’s been the road – starting from scratch all the way to the national championship,” he said. “We’ve worked so hard to get here.”

The championship, which is the biggest collegiate volleyball competition in the world, hosted 456 men’s and women’s teams from around the country, competing in five levels of play.

In posting a 9-0 record for the weekend, the team beat Duke, Texas Tech, Drexel, Stanford, California State Sacramento, Nebraska, Georgia Tech and West Virginia, before beating Cal. State Sacramento again 23-25, 25-17, 15-11 in the tournament final.

Zach Bixler, Anthony Campisano and Zack Rosenbaum joined Tournament MVP Nolan Mattingly on the All-Tournament Team.

Bibelhauser said the moments after they won were surreal. Campisano squeezed his shoulder and said “you started it Sam.”

“I almost lost it. I was near tears on the court, because it helped me remember that I was an important part of getting us there. But then again, every person there mattered in getting us on the road to the national championship.”

Before college, Bibelhauser played volleyball for St. Xavier High School in Louisville, which has a strong program, and for the Louisville Fury Volleyball Club. When he got to UofL, he noticed there were a number of players from those programs here.

“I was looking around thinking, we have the tools, why don’t we have a team?” he said.

He connected with Student Affairs, got the ball rolling, and wrote the club’s constitution with co-founders Andrew Hayden, Madalyn Wead and Alicia Von Handorf.

At first, the team faced significant financial and logistical obstacles. Due to limited availability at the Student Recreation Center, the team struggled to figure out where they could practice, as well as how to pay for court time and team travel/equipment expenses.

“We had to rent off campus courts to practice, which were about $1,000 and then pay a couple of thousand dollars that would allow us to travel to tournaments. It was hard, but we got better at fundraising,” Bibelhauser said.

Eventually doors opened at the SAC gym at the right times and they were able to practice twice a week.

“That was the best thing in the world,” he said. “We were able to make so much progress.”

They also got better at recruiting. Now, they have 50 members on four men’s and women’s teams.

Bibelhauser said the whole journey has been a huge part of his college career.

“I’m going to miss the five seniors who are graduating. We made a special group together,” he said.

Bibelhauser, who landed a co-op next year with NASA, said that when he was interviewing for different opportunities, he found himself telling a lot of stories about his experiences with volleyball.   

“It was a lot of hard work, there were obstacles, for me and the club, but we worked through them together, and that experience is irreplaceable,” he said. “It’s made for great memories. It’s a totally student-run organization and running it with the executive board made for a great life experience.”

And what of the fact that they were the first club in UofL history to win a national championship?

“That’s amazing,” he said. “That makes that team mean even more to me.”

The club will be recognized and the national banner unveiled Tuesday, April 24, during the annual Intramural Awards program at the Red Barn.

Niki King
Niki King Jones is positive she has the best job at the University of Louisville, serving the communication needs of the departments of fine arts and theatre, the School of Music, University Libraries and Alumni – all the fun, creative stuff. Before coming to UofL in 2015, Niki held communication positions in both private and nonprofit sectors in Louisville, Ky., including at Heaven Hill Distilleries and the Jewish Community of Louisville. For 10 years prior, she was a reporter at various newspapers across the country, most recently The Courier-Journal. Niki graduated from the University of Memphis with a BA in journalism and has a masters degree in community and leadership development from the University of Kentucky.