In a turbulent time of sports seasons, athletic programs and even entire colleges closing their doors, the Georgetown College athletic department is actually growing.
GC has announced that it will add men's volleyball in the 2020-21 scholastic year, increasing its number of teams to 22.
Director of Athletics Brian Evans also has hired the first coach. Andrew Palmer was appointed on Tuesday to guide the upstart program.
"These are exciting times for Georgetown College athletics," Evans said. "We have a rich tradition of volleyball on the women's side, and know that we are getting ready to carve that same path on the men's.”
Before taking on the challenge at GC, Palmer was the architect of two other new programs at Aurora and Urbana universities.
“Coach Palmer is a veteran at starting programs, handling difficult situations and developing well-round student-athletes,” Evans said.
Palmer took over Aurora’s spring schedule in its inaugural season of 2017-18 when the initial head coach took a leave for health reasons.
A student at Aurora at the time, Palmer ascended from the role of assistant coach and stepped up, took the reins and guided the Spartans to a 12-14 season in NCAA Division III.
"It was a tough time, but the guys all responded well, and we made the most of our situation," Palmer said. "You can't plan for those things, but getting through them makes you stronger."
At Urbana, Palmer started the Knights’ program this past season. Nearly two-thirds of the way through the inaugural year, everything halted because of COVID-19.
The virus canceled many sporting events and has left college programs in difficult situations. Few faced tougher times than Urbana, which announced that it is closing its doors permanently, leaving Palmer and his players without a program.
GC gave him a great spot to land and face a familiar test. Palmer expects at least half his team to transfer and finish their career with the Tigers.
"It's been tough for athletics and universities, so I'm very thankful for Georgetown College wanting to grow and expand," Palmer said. "It is an excellent opening to give opportunities to student-athletes and allow them to finish degrees."
That will give Georgetown a decided edge over some expansion programs.
"Biggest hurdle in starting a program is taking these high school athletes and developing them into mature players so you can succeed at a high level," Palmer said.
"My team at Urbana has already been through hopefully the toughest experiences they will have to face as college athletes. We didn't shy away from anyone in our first season, playing numerous Top 10 programs in the NCAA.
“Then having the season shutdown was unforeseeable and a few weeks later learn the institution is closing. They've all hung with me, and we've now got new opportunities together to continue what we started. It's pretty exciting, and I can't wait to get them in the gym this fall to see how that translates on the court."
Men's volleyball plays a fall season much like baseball and softball. Scrimmages and play dates to get some time on the court, but no countable contests. Coming out of the Christmas holiday things will ramp up as season play begins in January and runs through late April or early May.
Of course, Tiger fans already know and enjoy the sport.
"Women's volleyball is a beautiful game and fun to watch," Palmer said. "I coached it for many years, which is where my itch to coach started. The men jump a little higher, hit a little harder and move at a faster pace, so it has a slightly different element to it there. You have guys reaching 12 feet and hitting 60 or 70 miles per hour."
Palmer played high school volleyball and one year collegiately at Carthage in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He transferred to Aurora, which did not have a men's program, but started helping coach the women's team. He did double duty several years, helping coach the men's program at Robert Morris University, all while still being a student.
"His resume and character speak for itself," Evans said. "In talking with him as we explored this avenue of building our athletic program, we just knew now was the right time and he was the right coach. We are excited to have him on board and looking forward to great things in the inaugural year."