Fontbonne to be first NCAA Division III team play in Grow the Game Challenge

[Editor’s note: Off the Block each day from Aug. 6-15 will unveil one team participating in the 2019 Grow the Game Challenge. The entire tournament field and match schedule will be unveiled Thursday, Aug. 16.]

Fresh off its best season in program history, Fontbonne will now become the first NCAA Division III team to compete at the Off the Block Grow the Game Challenge.

Off the Block announced on Saturday that the Griffins in 2019 will make their debut at the nation’s largest college men’s volleyball non-conference tournament.

The Grow the Game Challenge is an annual event that brings regular season matches to an area of the nation that does not have a NCAA Division I-II men’s volleyball team. The 2019 tournament will take place on Jan. 18-20 at Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee.

Fontbonne set a program-record with 19 wins last season and finished in fifth place in the MCVL. It also was the third consecutive year that the St. Louis college under coach Mike Haston won at least 15 matches.

Libero Zach Rothstein highlights the starters returning for the Griffins in 2019. Rothstein set the school’s single-season record with 331 digs last season and was named both a first-team all-conference selection and the MCVL Defensive Player of the Year.

“I am really excited about the 2019 season. We are returning five of six starters, and I am really looking forward to seeing what our seniors can accomplish in their final season,” Haston said. “Furthermore, as we look to repeat as the No. 1 defense in NCAA D3 it will be really important to play some solid opponents early in the season.”

The Griffins are among the three non-NCAA Division I-II teams participating the 10-team event.

The Grow the Game Challenge also will be a homecoming of sorts for Haston. The Fontbonne coach was born in Nashville and graduated from the University of Tennessee.

“Outside of actually competing in the GTGC, we are all very excited to watch the other teams in this deep field of opponents,” Haston said. “Personally, I am really excited to be able to come back to the great state of Tennessee.”

This is the second year of the Grow the Game Challenge. The inaugural event in 2018 featured 10 NCAA Division I-II men’s volleyball teams and took place in Nashville.

The Grow the Game Challenge operates as a non-profit organization that is based in Nashville. In addition, the organization is committed to help promoting the growth of college men’s volleyball throughout the United States.