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Shown, l-r, are the three captains of the Nipmuc boys volleyball team which is a coop effort with Valley Tech, Tom Cavanaugh of BVT, Zach Dawson and Lucas Vanslette, both of Nipmuc. Nipmuc photo

Rivals Join Forces for Successful Co-Op
The Nipmuc volleyball team was facing declining numbers and the challenge of replenishing a deep senior class set to graduate this spring. The Blackstone Valley Tech program risked being eliminated altogether with only 14 athletes in the program and a retiring head coach. 
But the two cross-street rivals' decision to join together this year has resulted in a 16-4 regular season record, a win in the district tournament, and a partnership head coach Brian Gerard hopes is around to stay.
"I hope it continues," he said. "This has been a wonderful joint operation between the two schools. Last year was our first official varsity season and not knowing what kind of numbers would be coming out, the co-op was the way for us to go."
The logistics were fairly simple with the two schools located across the street from one another. And having an extra gym to use proved helpful during Nipmuc's art show or when inclement spring weather forced other teams indoors for practices. Gerard said some of his returning players were a bit hesitant to welcome the rival school into the program.
"Players sometimes don't want to join with another school," he said. "There was some 'really, coach, do we have to?' I told them, 'it'll be good for us, trust me.'"
Gerard proved to be correct, and the early objections quickly gave away to a shared desire to win.
"These guys have not seen the postseason in a while or a win in the postseason," Gerard said. "They are happy as can be and everyone is having a great time."
Several BVT players earned spots in the Nipmuc starting lineup and the staff of team managers includes members of the girls' volleyball teams from both schools. 
The future of the co-op is uncertain, as is the status of the two programs if the MIAA or other area schools object to the two Upton programs joining forces. Of the 16 varsity players this season, 11 are seniors, potentially putting both programs at risk if forced to play separately next year.
"I think, if we were to split up, it would hurt the program in terms of both depth and skill," Gerard said. "I am hoping we can keep it going."


Senior members of the Nipmuc boys volleyball team which is a coop effort with Valley Tech. Nipmuc photo




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