Despite the rough blanket of April ice, volleyball has made an early return this year. Over the past week, students, faculty and administrators have been scrambling to put together a brand-new athletic opportunity for boys at Grand Haven High School.
With approval to operate as a school club, assembly of a coaching staff and an overwhelming confirmation of interest, the Bucs will field a boys volleyball team this spring.
The team will compete weekly against squads from Allendale, Grand Rapids Christian and Kalamazoo Central in round-robin style tournaments on Thursdays.
Grand Haven girls volleyball junior varsity head coach Jim Vantol will head up coaching duties, along with an all-star lineup of local volleyball enthusiasts. The endeavor was the brainchild of girls varsity volleyball head coach Aaron Smaka, who last week caught wind of a league forming in West Michigan.
“Getting the boys playing is something we have talked about doing a number of times over the past 15 years,” Smaka said. “The difference this time is there are other schools putting together teams.
“Last Wednesday, I saw a couple stories on Facebook, one about Allendale’s team and another on Fox about Grand Rapids Christian hosting a league. So, I called their athletic director and he said they had three teams, they would love to have a fourth and games start on the 19th.”
“Aaron (Smaka) called me Wednesday night and said, ‘I hate to put you on the spot, but I need a decision in the morning. We want you to coach,’” Vantol said. “I said, ‘yeah I’ll coach.’
“Getting the boys going is something we are all passionate about and have been dreaming about for years. When word spread it was happening, the volleyball community reached out and said, ‘what can we do, we want to help.’”
World-class coaching staff
Among those reaching out were an all-star cast of assistant coaches, ready to turn whatever turned up on the first day of practice into a well-oiled rotation.
Vantol and Smaka will be joined by three local former college volleyball players — North Carolina State’s Brian Chryst of West Michigan Lakeshore Beach Volleyball fame, Western Michigan University’s Scot Jonker and former Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne All-American Brad Perditis.
“We have a strong volleyball community here,” Smaka said. “All these guys want to see this get off the ground because we all played, but didn’t have the opportunity really at the high school level.”
With the approval to function as a club, the support of the Grand Haven athletic department and the formation of the coaching staff, the team was ready to recruit some members. An interest meeting last Friday served as the first introduction to boys left without a spring sport.
It was a good first impression.
“We were hoping to get eight guys,” Vantol said. “We have 23.
“It is quite a good mix of really good athletes. We have a couple basketball players, a couple of football guys, some water polo guys, soccer players. It is a great mix.”
With ill-timed winter weather throwing a wrench in timetables all over the state, the team met for their first full practice Tuesday evening ahead of their first competitive outing Thursday.
Back to basics
The boys are going to put their learning skills to the test this week with just two full-team practices before their big debut. Cramming in basic ball control, rotation mechanics and the rulebook is a tall task, but the Bucs seem up to the challenge.
“I’ve coached volleyball for 11 years. The first year I coached, I started a club team for 11-year-old girls,” Vantol said. “Believe it or not, they were pretty good even at that age.
“This is something different. We have some great athletes. I was so happy with their attitudes and their skill level. They are so driven — you could see it in their eyes.
“Ball control is the big starting point, first contact, serve-receive, passing — a lot of passing. We worked on some set combinations, a little bit of defensive scheme and some attacking. It is a lot of information and they are handling it well.
“I was really impressed with the water polo guys, and some of the bigger football guys are really skilled. The basketball guys you kind of expect to pick it up. It has been a great start. The support of the community and the athletes have made it as good a start as I could have imagined.”
Thursday’s debut tournament will be held at Grand Rapids Christian High School. Going forward, the Bucs hope to host one of the tournament dates at Grand Haven High School.
The Bucs are now at the forefront of bringing boys indoor volleyball to West Michigan and are set to represent the Lakeshore well.