Haverhill's Dustin Lippold spikes his shot over the net in action against Central Catholic.

Where there's a will — to play college volleyball — there's a way. Just ask Andrew Sheehan and Dustin Lippold, two former Haverhill High School volleyball standouts, who have continued their volleyball careers at the University of Massachusetts Lowell playing for the school's club team.

While "club team" volleyball may not sound like serious sport, it is — and players such as Sheehan and Lippold not only play and view the game that way but they also raise funds and help run a self-sufficient team.

"It's a student-run sport," said Tim Strazzere, the team's coach/president and also a member of the nine-man team. "There's no men's varsity volleyball program at Lowell, so we pretty much do what we need to do to run the team. But it's a very competitive team, and we play very competitive volleyball."

Last weekend, the Lowell team competed in the 2007 NIRSA (National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association) Collegiate Volleyball Sport Club Championship in Louisville, Kentucky, and won four of its eight games in the tourney, said Sheehan.

"We did well and played hard. We improved a lot from last year when we played in nationals," said Sheehan, a 2004 Haverhill High School graduate, noting that hundreds of teams from across the country participated in the tournament.

The Lowell athletes not only "played hard," but they also funded the trip to Kentucky themselves. And that includes making the 34-hour round-trip drive themselves. No first-class flights for these guys.

"The trip back was tough. We were driving home during the storm on Sunday and Monday," said Sheehan. "There were white-out conditions. It took over 18 hours and we got everything (rain, sleet, snow). But I am happy with the way we played. The guys really stepped it up."

Sheehan said club volleyball is popular in the area because "there are not a lot of men's college varsity volleyball programs on the East Coast."

"So, most of the (college) teams around here play club-level volleyball, but it's very competitive," Sheehan said. "We'll go to a tournament every couple of weeks and play against teams like Boston College or Boston University; pretty big schools. There are some top teams playing in the NECVL (New England Collegiate Volleyball League), and we put up a pretty good fight in most of our tournaments this year."

Sheehan, the club's treasurer, said the team raises funds to keep the program alive by "helping out at women's volleyball games," and selling backpacks and T-shirts.

"We do a lot of hustling (to raise money). We'll call the lines at the women's games or do whatever we need to do," Sheehan said. "This is a lot different from varsity teams. We pretty much have to do everything to have a team. We even have to buy our own uniforms. There's a lot of work that goes into having a team, but it's worth it because we all love playing volleyball."

Sheehan and Lippold, a 2001 Haverhill High graduate, both former Merrimack Valley Conference All-Stars in high school, are key cogs on the Lowell team, said Strazzere.

"Andrew and Dustin are both excellent players, and really keep this team going," Strazzere said, noting that the team moved up to Division 1 this year in the NECVL, boasted a 7-6 record, and fared well at the Regional Tournament played at the University of New Hampshire.

"This is not like Division 1 sports where athletes get scholarships," Strazzere said. "The guys playing club sports have to do a lot just to have a team. We are all playing because we love the sport, and Andrew (Sheehan) has really helped keep this team going the past few years."

Despite losing a number of players to graduation, Sheehan said he hopes to "keep the team going" next year

"Hopefully we can pick up a couple more guys," Sheehan said. "Most of the guys who play are guys who played in high school but we have some guys who never played before but just love playing volleyball and wanted to try it. And that's what it's all about."

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