(The Gulls Graduate feature series is intended to share stories about our 2019 Class that the casual fan may not be aware of. We hope you enjoy this feature series as we prepare for our student-athletes to leave The Nest, onto bigger and better life adventures and successes.)
Written by RJ Nealon
- ECGulls.com Contributor
BEVERLY, Mass. – Unlike most student-athletes, he didn't grow up playing the sport; instead, Matt Bozek started playing later in his teenage years. Yes, his first year of volleyball was his senior year of high school.
Now, in his final year at Endicott College, where he chose to attend because of its location, his sport management major, and the internship program, he was a student-athlete.
Initially, he wanted to be a part of the volleyball team because of the one season he played the sport during his senior year of high school, for the reason that it was fun and he took to it relatively fast for never really playing before.
"I wanted to try out for both volleyball and basketball at Endicott and whichever one I made, I would play," Bozek said. "Volleyball tryouts were first, and I was a little burnt out from basketball in high school. I didn't realize how competitive and successful the Endicott volleyball program was, but it made me want to be a part of it even more."
At his first practice for the Gulls, men's volleyball head coach George Chapell '08 asked what position he was. When he saw the middles on the team were between 6-4 and 6-6, with no hesitation, he switched his position to be an outside hitter. A place he had never played before.
That plan didn't follow the script as he had hoped. At the end of tryouts, Bozek was told he didn't make the team. However, Bozek got offered the team manager position because Coach Chapell saw his passion and potential as an Endicott student-athlete.
It's hard to play just one year of a sport and jump right into it at the college level, but Bozek made his new opportunity work. Although he eventually went on to make the team in a different way, there were some benefits by the route he did take to get there.
"Being the team manager was an experience I wouldn't have changed for anything," he said. "It gave me everything I needed to truly learn the game."
He was able to watch techniques of individual student-athletes, learn rotations, and strategies of the game he was unfamiliar with. It also allowed him to have that team bond everyone strives for. Being a freshman on a small campus, knowing 16 brothers from the start of your college career goes a long way.
"Through his season with us as the team manager, Matt was able to learn the technical side of the game and learned what we look for in our student-athletes," said Chapell. "He also never missed a single practice or match, which spoke volumes to his dedication and commitment level. Moving into his sophomore year, Matt dedicated himself to the weight room and to playing all summer and improved enough to the point where he earned himself a roster spot. Throughout his four years, Matt elevated himself to the status of 'glue guy,' and was one of those guys that if I ever would have cut him from the team the rest of the squad would have walked out on me. He meant that much to our program."
What started as the most significant struggles and lack of experience turned out to be the biggest blessing in disguise. Being an intimidated freshman and going up against upperclassmen who have played since the beginning of high school and some even middle school only helped in when it came to his senior season.
Endicott finished the season 26-7 (13-1 conference) and won the New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) Tournament for the sixth time in program history with a 3-1 win over then-No. 5 nationally ranked Elms. The Gulls, who earned the conference's automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, went on to defeat St. Joseph's (L.I.), 3-1, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament before losing to then-No. 4 New Peltz State, 3-2, in the quarterfinal round. After beating Endicott, SUNY New Paltz won two more matches in the tournament to capture the NCAA Division III men's volleyball championship.
Meanwhile, on the individual side of things, Bozek's most celebrated performance came on Senior Day against Newbury College.
Bozek, at the beginning of the match, was 15 kills away from 100 career kills. Only a few people going into the match knew, but by the last set, the whole team was made aware of it and worked their tails off trying to help him reach the personal milestone.
"My coach apparently texted some alumni in the crowd once I was four kills away, so the whole crowd and student section got in on it too and started counting down which was really exciting," Bozek said. "I felt super accomplished and thankful for my team because there's no way I could've done it without everyone pulling for me."
Once Bozek reached the milestone, Coach Chapell called a timeout to acknowledge him in the team huddle but the guys on the squad had other ideas. They all stormed Bozek, lifted him in the air and carried him off the court on their shoulders back to the benches because of the performance he had.
"It was a Rudy-type of moment," Bozek said.
He finished with 10 kills that final set to finish the match with 16 kills and .444 hitting percentage.
That display of togetherness – giving Bozek a Rudy-type moment – illustrated one of the main reasons the Gulls finished the year ranked No. 5 nationally, their highest ranking ever in program history.
At first look, you would have had no idea; here is a kid that before attending Endicott College played one year of volleyball. Now, he's an integral member of a team, a family really, that has won three NECC titles, and, more importantly, created countless memories along the way that they will all cherish forever.
And, he did it starting as the team manager.
Bozek's storybook senior year doesn't end there, however.
He also went on to win Mr. Endicott – which is a talent show that determines who best represents Endicott for the year.
Along with that accomplishment, Bozek's career highlights include his current 3.71 cumulative grade point average (GPA), at the current moment this article was published, was named to the Dean's List multiple times, earned several Endicott Academic Varsity Club honors, and was a three-time NECC Academic All-Conference honoree. He also was a member of the Sport Management Club, an Orientation Leader, LIGHThouse, completed several hours of community service, and was a intramurals champion multiple times while at Endicott.
"Matt was able to get involved in every facet of the Endicott Experience,' said Chapell. "He was involved in multiple intramural sports and always maintained his strong academic performance from year-to-year despite being so involved with our program and many other areas that are too many to name. He was a great representative of our program, institution, and without a doubt embodied our late president Dr. Richard E. Wylie's tag-line of 'Discover the Endicott Experience'."
Now, as a soon to be graduated student-athlete, he'll take the determination and time management skills into the real world. For what he wants to do this is essential. When he first made the team his sophomore year, he was at the bottom of the roster. His junior year he started to gain ground on the roster, and his senior year he was a contributor to the team and was confident with his abilities to go up against anyone.
This story isn't one telling you Bozek will go out into the real world and get a job, instead, he will return to Beverly, Massachusetts in the fall to obtain his MBA working towards his goal of being the Jonah Hill and Brad Pitt in Money Ball but working for his dream team, the Boston Celtics.