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How George Santos Made Baruch Volleyball Famous

The display cases in the lobby of Baruch College’s athletic department are cluttered with glittering trophies. Framed photographs of champion teams line the cinderblock walls of the hallways. NCAA tournament banners hang from the gymnasium rafters.

Nowhere, however, is there any sign of the man who put Baruch’s men’s volleyball team on the map — and on social media, network news and “Saturday Night Live.”

It’s as if the collegiate athletic career of Rep. George Santos — the self-proclaimed Baruch Bearcats volleyball star, whose teams defeated Harvard and Yale and who gave so much to the game he needed knee replacements at the end of his playing days – didn’t exist.

Of all the fabrications conjured up by Mr. Santos, the newly elected Republican congressman from New York, perhaps the most fabulous has been his claim to volleyball fame.

It’s one thing to apparently lie about having two college degrees, working at Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, losing four employees in the Pulse nightclub shooting, grandparents who survived the Holocaust, and a mother escaping from the south tower on 9/11.

But being a volleyball star in a suburban school in the heart of Manhattan?

“I had a good laugh,” Michael Higgins, a senior center tackle for this season’s Baruch volleyball team, said Tuesday night after the Bearcats lost their home opener to St. Joseph of Long Island. “I thought it was quite funny that he chose our team over millions of other teams.”

Ever since Santos’ 2020 interview with WABC radio in which he made up his college volleyball days resurfaced earlier this month, Baruch’s volleyball has become something of a gag, a punchline. for actors and a gift for GIF maestros.

“What are they saying – all publicity is good publicity,” said spectator Meni Musheyev, 23, who – according to Baruch – was telling the truth when he said he was a former team player before to have graduated several years ago.

The jokes, however, obscure an honest effort — that of the Division III athlete, who plays without athletic scholarships, crowded arenas, or much hope of turning pro. Tuesday night’s match was played in front of a few dozen spectators. Admission is free, as are webcasts.

Baruch’s players represent the picturesque ideal of the student-athlete.

The team posted a 3.42 GPA last spring. There are 13 finance majors, two are studying accounting and others are pursuing degrees designed around a career path rather than ensuring they remain eligible to play sports.

During the off season, many intern at financial or real estate companies, and some spend a semester studying abroad.

“It’s hard for everyone to deal with the two, but I love being here, playing every day,” said Jack Centeno, co-captain and outside hitter whose senior season in high school and his first in the university have been wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic.

And they’re not bad on the pitch. Baruch, now 2-1 this season, won the City University of New York Athletic Conference last year, beating rival Hunter College. The team has won nine of the last 12 conference titles and advanced to the Final Four of the NCAA Division III tournament.

College at Baruch is a quintessentially New York experience. Nearly 20,000 students are crammed into a three-block campus along Lexington Avenue, where the main building rises 14 stories. The gymnasium is three stories underground, in the basement, which provides privacy for NBA teams, who often train there when in town playing the Knicks or Nets. (Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic recently drew a crowd of jaw-dropping college students through the court’s only window.)

Most students commute; there are only about 300 dorms available. And many, including athletes, work while going to school. There is no brotherhood line.

“We like to use the sport here as an outlet,” said Heather MacCulloch, athletic director. “Two hours in the pool where I don’t do math, I don’t need to have my McDonald’s uniform on, and my mum doesn’t yell at me for not taking out the trash. These are hours of comfort and rejuvenation.

The men’s volleyball team also resembles New York. There are players who grew up in Guyana, China, Serbia, Japan and Colorado, and freshman twins from Albania. Other players were raised in Queens and Brooklyn.

Their freshman coach, Alexander Moule, 26, a native of Rockaway Beach, Queens, isn’t much older than his players. His parents, Patricia and Simon Moule, were among the very few parents present in the stands on Tuesday evening. He “took no shortcuts to his American dream,” said Simon Moule.

When the team had a lull in their fall practices, Mr. Moule told his team about a concept from Japanese corporate culture – kaizen, which means continuous improvement. He asked Naoki Tani, a player from Tokyo who knew little English when he arrived three years ago, to tell the team about it.

“Finding success at this level takes a certain mindset, a certain resilience that you have to have when you go into games,” said Ryan Oommen, the setter and co-captain who was introduced to volleyball in growing up in an Indian. Nassau County community on Long Island, where he said the sport and its culture are intertwined. “We have a whole season ahead of us. Building that type of fightback mindset is great for success in life.

There have also been lessons to be learned from the Santos story.

Mr Moule, the coach, said he was surprised when the recording of Mr Santos’ volleyball swagger resurfaced. He received text messages from friends and started reading a story he hadn’t paid close attention to before bringing it up with his players.

“The first thing that came to mind is that we really encourage accountability,” Moule said with a laugh.

Interestingly, there are kernels of truth in Mr. Santos’ volleyball fever dreams.

Baruch beat Harvard in 2010, the year Mr Santos said he graduated from the school. (Baruch couldn’t have beaten Yale, as he claimed, because the university doesn’t have a men’s volleyball team.) The star of that 2010 team was Pablo Oliveira, a Brazilian outside hitter.

Mr. Oliveira is perhaps the best all-around player of all time at Baruch: he remains among the leaders of his career in kills (second), aces (second) and recoveries (fifth). Now, however, he is known as Pablo Patrick, using his middle name as his surname. Pablo Patrick is the managing director of LinkBridge Investors, the financial firm that formerly employed Mr. Santos. He did not return a call seeking comment.

It was unclear whether Mr. Santos’ lies about playing volleyball for Baruch were influenced by Mr. Oliveira’s past. On a resume Mr. Santos submitted around January 2020 to Nassau County Republican leaders, he made no mention of his volleyball prowess, even though he falsely claimed to have earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and finance from Baruch in 2010 – graduated summa cum laude in the top 1 percent of his class.

He apparently saved the volleyball lie for a thought-provoking conversation with Nassau County Republican officials.

“He said he was a star and they won the championship and he was a forward,” said Joseph G. Cairo Jr., chairman of the Nassau County Republican committee. (Striker is a position in football, not volleyball.)

Along the hallways outside Baruch’s gymnasium hangs a photo of the 2010 Bearcats men’s volleyball team after winning the CUNY Athletic Conference championship, ending an undefeated conference season. In the photo, which Tuesday was hidden under plastic because of construction, the Bearcats have medals around their necks and arms around each other. Oliveira holds a two-foot tall trophy in his left hand.

Elsewhere in the photo, standing side by side, are a George (Chave) and a Santos (Rivera). But George Santos is nowhere to be found.

nytimes Gt

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