volleyball keeps growing
of the 125 schools in Class 4A, 5A have boys volleyball
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 14, 2008 10:49 AM
any teenager, the 14-year-old sport of boys volleyball in
Arizona is experiencing change.
top-notch athletes are choosing boys volleyball and sticking
with it every year, adding more depth to a sport willing
to rival that of traditional ones. Not only are more athletes
noticing Arizona boys volleyball, so are NCAA Division I
coaches and USA Volleyball, the governing body that oversees
the men's volleyball national team.
As for what is there that wasn't before? Try
new boys volleyball programs this season, including Gilbert
Higley and El Mirage Dysart.
Just 14 teams participated in the first boys volleyball season,
which ended in a state tournament won by Phoenix Mountain Pointe
Now, 54 of the 125 schools in Class 4A and 5A have boys volleyball
programs, with Gilbert Perry, Gilbert Williams Field and Tucson
Sahuarita ready to field Division II varsity teams next season.
Through 14 years, the development of Arizona boys volleyball
has seen one world-class player come through, a handful of
programs become state powerhouses and the depth of talent grow
But what are the teen years without those awkward moments?
The sport in Arizona is still fighting stereotypes and districts
that refuse to add it. Plus, the state's pool of NCAA Division
I talent is minimal.
"I don't know if the development has been leaps and bounds,
but it has been a steady growth," said Mountain Pointe
coach Fred Mann, who has won the most boys volleyball state
titles (five, the last in 2003).
The testament of the sport's development will continue when
Gilbert Highland, Phoenix Brophy Prep, Tucson Rincon and defending
Division I champion Phoenix Desert Vista represent Arizona
next week in a 50-plus-team national tournament in Las Vegas.
In last season's tournament, Highland, Brophy and Tucson Catalina
Foothills finished in the top eight of their brackets.
The sport's beginnings couldn't have been more humble, but
1994 was the right time for boys volleyball to rise in Arizona.
Mann, who won a collegiate national title in South Africa as
a player, had moved to the state and built a club program with
his Mountain Pointe students. Among them was Reid Priddy, now
the go-to player on the USA Men's National Volleyball Team.
He recently led the team in qualifying for this summer's Beijing
But the club didn't have a gym, so it rented churches. It
didn't have jerseys, so it bought hand-me-downs.
Around the same time, Gilbert High student Nate Boulter and
a few friends wanted to start a boys team at their school.
To do that, the boys had to start from scratch - convince
the school board and convince enough schools in the East Valley
to field teams to form a conference. At the time, only four
Tucson schools had teams.
"I tell my (players) all the time how much those boys
had to put up with," said Gilbert Highland coach Vee Hiapo,
who coached Highland to four consecutive state title matches.
Boulter credits Gilbert's first boys coach, Jo Elyn Boone,
and Mann for helping the sport become what it has.
"I don't think I could have played or been a captain
with the caliber of talent coming out nowadays," Boulter
That is due to the commitment of coaches forming year-round
club teams, Mann said.
"It used to be just four or five teams playing club tournaments," he
said. "Now players from 30 teams are playing in the off-season."
The club scene has helped schools challenge powerhouses Highland,
Mountain Pointe and Tucson Canyon del Oro. Desert Vista, which
has several players who are members of Mann's club team, won
last season's Division I title as the seventh seed.
Mann labeled northwest Valley schools Anthem Boulder Creek
and Glendale Mountain Ridge as up-and-coming teams because
their coaches have formed successful clubs.
What Boulder Creek coach Chad Speer did was take what Mann
and Hiapo had done to cultivate a powerhouse.
"It's basically the same format I used," Speer said. "I
used the club to build the high school team. Now, we're successful
on both sides."
With the depth
of talented teams increasing, the next step for the state
is developing top talent. A few
able to receive scholarships from collegiate Division I programs
in the past but the "can't-miss" players are, well,
Though Priddy was there at the beginning, he has proved to
be an anomaly.
But as Mann pointed
out: "He's an anomaly
regardless. How many people become a two-time Olympian? To
be a freak of
nature. To be 6-foot-3 (short for an international-level outside
hitter) and one of the top players in the world let alone the
Getting the school's best athletes to commit to volleyball
has been tough. Many feel that Desert Vista's 6-foot-8 senior
outside hitter Michael Proctor could be one of the country's
best players if he stuck with volleyball.
But Proctor's first love is basketball, and he is one of the
state's best players on the hardwood. Even though he is committed
to play at Northern Colorado, that didn't stop BYU, the country's
top-ranked men's volleyball team, from calling Proctor recently.
One volleyball-only player who could become nationally known
is Tucson Salpointe Catholic junior setter Pat Tunnell.
"He was the first one to start on varsity as a freshman
and never came off the court," Salpointe coach Amy Johnson
said. "He has the right body (at 6-feet-4), the right
athleticism. He pretty much has everything you're asking for."
USA Volleyball has seen the growth in Arizona and set up tryouts
for its High Performance national team in January. Brophy coach
Tony Oldani, who was chosen to coach the Boys Arizona High
Performance team, said that more NCAA Division I coaches are
"Volleyball was thought of as a girls sport," Rincon
coach Juanita Kingston said. "But I'd like to see you
put your face in front of a guy hitting a ball and tell me
it's just a girls sport. It's just a rush when those guys hit
so darn hard."
Higley coach Nick Lujan said he has drawn players from different
sports and even members of the band.
"It's been a blessing seeing new schools getting programs," Oldani
said. "It's been awesome watching the sport grow."
And it will continue to do so, as any teenager does.
Story on AZCentral.com > > >
Region Girls HP Tryouts Ends with Record Numbers
Arizona Region ended the tryout phase of its 2008 High Performance
Program with a record breaking number of Arizona athletes
With the HP Championships
coming to Tucson in July, the program has gained much interest
from athletes, coaches and parents alike. The tryout numbers,
the biggest in the Region’s 9 year history with the
High Performance Program, bear that out: