QUINCY -- Growing up in Olmsted Falls, Ohio, Anthony Winter was well aware of Ohio State University since it was two hours away from his home.
His goal was to play for the Ohio State men's volleyball team, which has grown to be one of the premier programs in the country with three national titles since 2011 along with 20 NCAA Tournament appearances. He also had heard of other schools competing in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association like Ball State and Fort Wayne.
However, Winter hadn't heard of Quincy University until an alum of the program who lived near him piqued his interest in the school. He learned if he went to the smaller school in the town situated on the Mississippi River, he had a better chance of playing right away.
"That was a draw for me," said Winter, now a senior outside hitter for the Hawks. "If I came here, I had a chance to play. If I was at a big school, I had no idea if I'd play or sit. I knew here if I put my work in, I'd get to compete early."
Success has been limited in Winter's four years at Quincy as the Hawks have gone 50-78 in his four seasons, and 11-50 in conference play.
But that goes back long before Winter ever stepped foot in Quincy.
Quincy fielded its first men's volleyball team in 1994 and joined the six-team MIVA that season. Quincy won just one of 10 conference matches. MIVA has eight teams this season, and Ohio State, Ball State, Fort Wayne and Lewis have been mainstays since Quincy joined the league.
Losing records have been a theme for the Hawks in conference play ever since.
The Hawks are currently 0-13 in MIVA play this season and already guaranteed their 16th consecutive losing season heading into Saturday's regular-season finale against Loyola-Chicago. All eight MIVA teams qualify for the conference tournament.
Quincy has only had two conference records above .500 since it joined the MIVA, going 11-5 in 2001 and 9-7 the following season. Quincy has never finished higher than fifth in the conference standings. The Hawks have finished last five times in the last 11 seasons, taking sixth (out of seven teams) four times and taking seventh (out of nine teams) twice.
Quincy has had only four winning records in its history -- 2000, 2002, 2011, 2012.
Some combination of Ohio State, Loyola-Chicago, Ball State, Fort Wayne and Lewis can be found atop the MIVA standings nearly every season. The last four men's volleyball national championships have been won by either Ohio State or Loyola-Chicago. Ohio State won its first national championship in 2011, and Lewis won a title in 2003 that was vacated due to NCAA violations.
That means QU is facing some of the best competition in the country in its own conference. Ohio State (No. 7), Loyola-Chicago (No. 8), Lewis (No. 10), Ball State (No. 12) and Fort Wayne (No. 15) are all in the latest national ranking.
"(The MIVA) is the toughest conference out there," Quincy coach Gavin Mueller said. "It's been brutal. It's a tough conference."
"The competition is just incredible," Winter said. "You're playing against some of the most skilled players in the nation."
Half of the schools in the MIVA -- Ohio State, Ball State, Loyola and Fort Wayne -- compete at the Division I level for all of their athletics. Ohio State is the conference's biggest school with nearly 54,000 undergraduates, and the other three schools have enrollments more than 13,000.
Men's volleyball is the only Division I sport offered by the MIVA's other four teams -- Quincy, Lewis, McKendree and Lindenwood. Quincy has the smallest enrollment with 1,250 students. Lewis and Lindenwood have four times the number of students, and McKendree is double the size of QU.
That puts Quincy behind.
"Theoretically, it probably does," Winter said. "But schools like Lewis always compete for national titles. It's just about getting those players and having the confidence. I've been here four years, and I feel like I've been playing these other teams for forever, and we're right there with them."
The records would indicate otherwise. QU has lost 75 of 88 matches in the MIVA during the past six seasons.
Only 142 institutions offer men's volleyball at the NCAA level for the 2017-18 academic year. The schools are divided into Division I, which offers scholarships, and Division III, which doesn't offer scholarships.
Quincy competes in Division II for all of its other sports, but no Division II for men's volleyball exists. Only 42 schools compete at the Division I level, and Quincy is the 35th smallest school in terms of undergraduate enrollment to play at the Division I level. Erskine College is the smallest in Division I with only 575 undergraduates.
Of the five Division I conferences, the MIVA is the only one that fits Quincy geographically. Quincy theoretically could fit in the Midwest College Volleyball League at the Division III level that has schools like Augustana College in Rock Island, North Central College in Naperville and Fontbonne University in St. Louis.
However, if Quincy were to play at the Division III level, it could no longer offer athletic scholarships.
"The challenge in men's volleyball in general is there's no D2 level," said Marty Bell, Quincy's vice president of intercollegiate athletics. "(The MIVA) is the best geographic fit for us. We have to find a place to play, and we do an outstanding job with the resources we have."
Playing in a Division I conference puts Quincy at a disadvantage in terms of resources, but Bell said the school can attract some players "because we're playing at the highest level."
The playing field is level in terms of scholarships. Men's volleyball is considered an equivalency sport by the NCAA, which means schools can only award the equivalent of 4.5 full scholarships to the entire roster.
Bell said Quincy comes "pretty close" to awarding 4.5 full scholarships each year.
"You have to be strategic with what you do and what you use," Bell said. "You start six players, so you can't give it all away to four players. It's kind of a jigsaw puzzle with how you approach it."
Quincy often recruits the same players who are targeted by bigger schools in the MIVA.
"You'll hear recruits say they are looking at other schools in the conference," Mueller said. "That tells me that we are all looking for the top talent and on the right track. It's a recruiting battle."
When Mueller was promoted from graduate assistant to guide the Hawks in May, his task was to change the culture in the program to where Quincy can be competitive in the conference and improve its presence away from the volleyball court.
Mueller has yet to see the results in terms of wins and losses in MIVA play, but Winter says the camaraderie among the players is improved.
"It's on its way up," Winter said. "We've got a lot of kids coming in next year, and I'm sad I won't be here to be a part of it."
The Hawks' struggles this year comes from having a young roster, where eight of the 18 players are underclassmen, as well as the learning curve from Mueller inserting his philosophies into the team.
The belief in the program is the Hawks' fortunes will improve next season.
"There's a cultural shift going on, and it's a new energy," Bell said. "I like their energy and cohesiveness. Eventually when (Mueller) gets the guys in there he needs for his system, they'll be in a much better place."
QU's Past MIVA Records
Ohio State* 53,715
Ball State* 17,285
Fort Wayne* 13,459
*NCAA Division I school