Senior student-athletes who are graduating from Concordia University Irvine this month are proud to be a part of the school’s history in the making. They are honored to have played their respective sports during Concordia’s transition to a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II school.
“I feel honored to be a part of this program and this school, and I’m extremely excited to come back and watch my team, support my team and continue to be a part of this family,” said Joey Pillon, who played men’s volleyball for four years.
Pillon knew he wanted to play volleyball in college. He said he decided to attend Concordia because of the interest the school showed in him.
What I loved about Concordia and the coach (Shawn Patchell) is that they just cared the most. I really wanted to play for a school that cared about me. I always felt like I was wanted.
“What I loved about Concordia and the coach (Shawn Patchell) is that they just cared the most,” he said. “I really wanted to play for a school that cared about me. I always felt like I was wanted.”
Concordia’s men’s volleyball program started five years ago, the year before Pillon, who majored in business administration, started attending school there. Over the past four years, Pillon said he’s played with everyone who has come through the program, except one player who graduated and later became the team’s grad assistant.
“I have a really close personal connection with everyone who’s come through men’s volleyball, and I know they will always be there for me when they move to NCAA Division II. I look forward to continuing to support those guys and seeing what I was a part of starting,” Pillon said.
CUI is completing its three-year membership application process to become a NCAA DII school. The university is currently a provisional member of the PacWest (Pacific West) Conference and the NCAA Division II. Once granted full membership, Concordia will be the only Division II school in Orange County.
Pillon said the men’s volleyball team will play in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) next year, which will put Concordia up against some Division I schools.
“We’ll be playing in the MPSF, so we’ll actually be playing in Division I schedule men’s volleyball next year. There aren’t many teams so they’re combined in men’s volleyball,” Pillon explained. “If we go to the playoffs, we’ll be playing for the NCAA Division I national championship. That’s truly a big step for us.”
Pillon said becoming a NCAA DII school is a great steppingstone for Concordia, which was previously a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). He said Concordia will gain recognition not just for its great music program and education program, but athletics as well.
“Not many people know about Concordia and NAIA schools, and they don’t really realize how competitive we are and how awesome all these athletes are that attend this school,” he said.
Looking back over his four years at Concordia, Pillon said he has grown tremendously.
“I am a 100 percent changed person and better person because of athletics and playing for four years,” he said. “It teaches you responsibility in a fashion that other things can’t. You are held accountable to yourself, your teammates, and people who become closer to you than just teammates. You’re embracing a team and atmosphere that grows you in a special way.”
Looking ahead, graduating senior Taylor Dennison is as excited about Concordia’s future as her own.
“Concordia is making moves. I’m excited to see where it goes,” she said.
Dennison, who played women’s volleyball, decided to attend Concordia because of athletics. However, she didn’t plan to go pro or to pursue volleyball after college, so a NAIA school was a good fit for her. Now, four years later, she said becoming a NCAA D II school is good for Concordia, and she’s honored to have had a hand in the process.
The school is being put on the map–through academics, athletics, theater, debate, and all these other awesome things going on within our school. It’s awesome that we get to be part of such a monumental moment for the school.
“The school is being put on the map–through academics, athletics, theater, debate, and all these other awesome things going on within our school,” Dennison said. “It’s awesome that this class gets to be a part of that transition; we can say that we helped with that process. It’s awesome that we get to be part of such a monumental moment for the school.”
Just as Concordia has made an everlasting imprint on Dennison, she is pleased to leave her mark on the school.
“All I wanted to do these last four years was leave a legacy. With women’s volleyball winning Pac West championship and the school making the transition to Division II, and just with the school being put on the map, I feel like I can say I was here, I made my mark, and now I’m moving forward,” said Dennison, a communications major.
Saying goodbye to sports after playing since she was 6 years old is difficult, but Dennison said she’s excited at same time.
“Going out with a championship ring and winning Pac West championship is the best way to cap everything,” she said.