By KEVIN ROBERTS
Tim Walsh looked out from the famous Brooklyn Heights Promenade during his visit to St. Francis College, the skyscrapers of Manhattan sprawled out in front of him across the East River. It was then that Walsh knew he had found his home for the next four years.
Walsh made history when he signed his National Letter of Intent to play Division I volleyball for the Terriers on Nov. 19 in the Southington High School library in front of family and former coaches. He is the first signee for the start-up volleyball program, and his family wore Terrier shirts that said as much. Walsh is also the first Division I signee for the Southington boys volleyball program.
“I’m hoping that we’re going to be really competitive and that the coach [Andy Mueller] is going to recruit top-notch guys, but I hope that I can help make us competitive,” Walsh said.
That famous promenade is just a three-minute walk from the campus, but it wasn’t the most important reason why Walsh liked St. Francis College. It also helped that Walsh was welcomed by the people he met while on his visit.
“I met the athletic director, I met the president, I met everybody important at that school, and they were all the most wonderful people I’ve ever met,” Walsh said. “They were all really nice, and that was the big difference.”
St. Francis is a small college with 2,413 students enrolled and a 15:1 student to faculty ratio, according to the college’s website. Mueller is certainly ready for Walsh to be a Terrier.
“Tim is an exceptional young man and is a great player for us to build this program around,” Mueller said in a story on the team website. “From the first time I spoke to Tim and his parents, Susan and Neil, it was clear to me that Tim is going to continue to work hard to improve his game and be a leader on this team, on this campus and in our community from day one.”
Southington coach Lou Gianacopolos will be happy to have Walsh close to home.
“I can check him out and see him play. I will definitely be supporting him and watching him play and being a loud presence in the stands,” Gianacopolos said.
On the volleyball court, Walsh, a 6-foot-3 senior, knows something about starting from nothing. Baseball and basketball were his first sports loves, then he tried out for volleyball as a freshman at Southington High School. Walsh went from having “zero volleyball experience” to getting promoted to varsity midway through his freshman season.
Gianacopolos said that he believes Walsh will welcome the challenge at St. Francis, and Gianacopolos also knows something about being part of a start-up. He was the first coach hired in 2003 when the Southington boys volleyball program started. The Blue Knights were 1-15 in that first season, but they were better by the end of that season.
“Find little victories, whether it’s timing, whether it’s taking one set. Maybe you don’t take the whole match,” Gianacopolos said.
What made Walsh such a hot commodity for St. Francis?
“He’s got confidence, and he’s not afraid to perform,” Gianacopolos said. “He won’t be the one to sit back and say, ‘Okay, is someone else going to go, and now I’ll go.’”
Walsh and his St. Francis teammates will need to work hard against teams that are already established in the Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association. As for Southington, Gianacopolos is looking for big things out of his senior, who was named to the all-conference team in each of the past two seasons. Walsh was also an all-state selection as a junior.
“He’s going to have to perform, he’s going to have to take this team on his shoulders in order for us to succeed,” Gianacopolo said. “We lost quite a bit, losing J.J. [Clark], a lot of leaders we lost last year.”
Walsh had a team-high 271 kills and 51 aces in his junior season. He was second on the team in digs (222) and serve-receives (268). Walsh is undecided about what he will study at St. Francis.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com