Rarefied Air: Vermont senior Brian Voelkel rips down 1,000th rebound

“I always laugh when people ask me about rebounding techniques. I’ve got a technique. It’s called ‘just go get the damn ball!’”
– Charles Barkley

Vermont senior Brian Voelkel pulled down the 1,000th rebound of his college career on Sunday at Harvard. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Vermont senior Brian Voelkel pulled down the 1,000th rebound of his college career on Sunday at Harvard. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

(Cambridge, MA) — With 12:35 remaining in the second half of a hotly contested matchup against visiting Vermont, Harvard senior forward Kyle Casey swooped down the lane and kissed a contested shot off the glass.

Casey’s floater was too strong, but the 6’7” leaper’s momentum put him in the perfect position to collect his own miss. Joining Casey in pursuit of the ball were Harvard forwards Agunwa Okolie, a 6’8” elbows-above-the-rim athlete, and Wesley Saunders, a rare breed of speed, strength, explosive hops and basketball IQ.

Yet as the ball plummeted back down towards the hardwood after reaching its apex, it was Vermont forward Brian Voelkel, the only Catamount in the area, who plucked it out of the air, enveloping the Wilson-stamped ball in one meaty paw. Voelkel ripped the rock down to his chest in a viselike grip before firing an outlet pass up the court to hit streaking teammate Sandro Carissimo in full stride.

While Harvard’s trio of leapers – all taller, longer and significantly more athletic than Voelkel, who would likely need to stand on a stack of phone books to see his listed height of 6’5” – were flying above the rim, the Catamounts’ cornerstone was bulling his way through the trenches, using guts, guile, an innate sonar for the basketball and, above all, effort as his great equalizers.

Casey left his feat a split-second too soon, soaring past the ball and out of the frame. Saunders was a eye-blink too late and could only watch helplessly as Voelkel grabbed the board. And Okolie was beaten to his spot and sealed off by the brick wall that is the bruising 240-pounder’s back.

Voelkel made it look effortless, as if he had done it a thousand times before. That’s because he had, or, to be exact, he had done it 999 times before in his college career.

“He’s always been an amazing rebounder [and] a great teammate to have,” said Carissimo, who has been teammates with Voelkel since their high school days at
Iona Prep.

Scoring 1,000 points at the Division I level is a rare achievement and a true milestone. But pulling down 1,000 rebounds? That’s truly rarified air.

“Incredible milestone. 1,000 rebounds, when you think about a lot of rebounds a lot of games, he’s been rebounding at a high-level since he got here,” said Vermont head coach John Becker.

When Voelkel corralled Casey’s miss on a cold Sunday afternoon at Lavietes Pavilion, he became just the third Catamount and only the ninth player in America East history to surpass the millennium mark in rebounding.

“I’m probably still 600 points away from the 1,000 mark, I just always took pride in rebounding,” laughed Voelkel, who has never averaged more than seven points per game.

It is often said that rebounding isn’t about size, skill or athleticism, but rather effort and heart. No player has better personified that over his career than Voelkel, who might not be able to jump over a phone book or beat a tortoise in a sprint, but finds a way to win the rebounding battle every night.

“I just always tried to give my best effort on the boards,” Voelkel explained matter-of-factly. “I think it shows some consistency and hard work,” he added in the understatement of the year.

“I just always tried to give my best effort on the boards." - Brian Voelkel. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
“I just always tried to give my best effort on the boards.” – Brian Voelkel. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

Heading into the home stretch of his senior year, Voelkel has been the model of his consistency, starting each and every one of the Catamounts 113 games during his career to date, posting career averages of 8.9 rebounds, five assists and 1.5 steals to go with 5.9 points.

In a moment befitting a career dedicated to doing the dirty work while eschewing the spotlight, following the Catamounts’ 74-68 loss to the Crimson, Voelkel once again dodged any talk of his individual accolades.

“I’m proud to get that accomplishment,” said Voelkel of his 1,000th rebound, “but it would have been a lot sweeter with the win.”

For all his rebounding prowess, the true measure of Voelkel’s career has been his selflessness and desire to always put the name on the front of his jersey above that on the back.

“Brian would trade all those rebounds for a win tonight, I can promise you,” said Becker.

With at least 19 guaranteed games left in the season, barring anything unforeseen, Voelkel will break Vermont’s all-time records for rebounds (1,054, held by Kevin Roberson), assists (624 held by Mike Trimboli) games played (131, held by Nick Vier) and games started.