Boys', Men's VB on Upswing in North Carolina

Aug. 26, 2009, 1:13 p.m. (ET)

Maura Gladys
Intern, Media Relations and Publications
Phone: (719) 228-6886

More often than not, the hollow slapping sound that you hear inside any given gymnasium in the state of North Carolina is that of basketballs bouncing on a hardwood court. Home to the NCAA champion University of North Carolina men’s basketball team, legendary basketball powerhouse Duke, and the solid basketball programs of North Carolina State and Wake Forest, the Tar Heel State is crazy for that orange leather sphere.

But chances are, in a few of those gyms that sound you hear isn’t a basketball, but a volleyball. Boys’ and men’s volleyball is a quietly budding sport in North Carolina, with advances at the local, state and collegiate level that may foreshadow future success.

Although boys’ and men’s volleyball has made several strides within the past year, several factors have prevented it from flourishing. Most notably it is not sanctioned by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, making it difficult to create a presence at the high school level. Basketball, baseball, soccer and football claim the majority of male athletes at most high schools, leaving many athletic directors uninterested in exploring any other options.

“The main thing is that it is not in high schools,” executive director of the Carolina Region, Kevin Wendelboe said. “Several areas have middle school teams. But then when players see that they can’t continue in high school, they just drop off from there.”

According to Sheila Holloway, high performance director for the Carolina Region, it will not break into high schools any time in the near future.

“It’s really hard right now, with a bad economy, a lot of sports are getting cut from schools. So even a school that might want to take advantage of the USAV grants (which provides financial aid to high schools that begin boys’ volleyball programs), they really can’t because if they start a boys’ program they have to start another girls’ program. So any growth in high school has been at a standstill for a while.”

At the local level, clubs and leagues are forming that provide a friendly local atmosphere for boys to play. One of the most successful of these is the Triangle Boys Volleyball League.

Tri Boys Volleyball League

When Brian Magee moved to Cary, N.C., with his wife and two sons, he assumed that there would be high school boys’ volleyball. A Pittsburgh native, Magee often played volleyball with his wife, and was accustomed to the volleyball culture of Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio.

“All of the schools there have volleyball, so I just assumed that no matter where we moved, there would be boys’ volleyball,” Magee said.

When he arrived, Magee was troubled to find that options for boys’ volleyball were limited. This prompted him to explore options for introducing the sport to the area.

“We got involved with a group of people that played beach volleyball, and we decided it would probably be a good idea to get a club going,” Magee said. “I approached the Cary YMCA and they were interested. The first year we just ran a few clinics and had a few weeks of practices.”

The club soon gained interest and began to form multiple teams in various age groups that competed at USAV girls’ and boys’ tournaments.

Now in its 11th year, the Cary YMCA Boys’ Volleyball Club has grown to four teams, two of which competed in the first-ever Triangle Boys’ Volleyball League; another creation of Magee and a few other passionate volleyball coaches. The league is the first of its kind in the region, and aims to give as many boys as possible a chance to play volleyball at the local level.

“The league was fabulous. It afforded several boys their only opportunity to play,” said Steve Lympany, coach of the Fuquay-Varina Athletic Association Boys Volleyball Club.

The TVBL features four teams comprised of boys ages 15-18. Besides the two Cary YMCA teams, the Fuquay-Varina VBC and the Chapel Hill Area Volleyball Club coached by Sandro Pinheiro. During the season, which runs January to April, teams practice once a week, and play games depending on what times gyms can be reserved. The league was a huge success, allowing boys a local, friendly atmosphere to play volleyball.

“One of the best things about the league was that we don’t have to travel far,” said Aaron Lympany, a member of Fuquay-Varina Athletic Association Boys Volleyball Club. “We could either stay in Fuquay or go up to Cary.”

“We have never really gotten a chance to play against other teams in our area, and getting a chance to play against people we know made it a whole lot more fun, a really friendly rivalry,” said Shane Lympany another member of Fuquay-Varina Athletic Association Boys Volleyball Club.

According to Magee, the league accommodates a high school student’s schedule and playing ability better than nearby adult leagues.

“Without the league, the only other option for 15- and 16-year-olds around here would be to play with the men,” Magee said. “If you take a 15- or 16-year-old boy and put them on the court against a men’s team, it is going to be a rough day. You would have to travel an hour and a half away and play all day on a Saturday. What we have are a couple of teams fairly close to Cary that play for a couple hours one night, instead of all day on a Saturday.”

The goal of the Triangle Boys Volleyball League is not to develop a powerhouse volleyball club with a rigorous training schedule, but to provide an outlet for boys to develop a love for a new sport.
The best thing is just to give everybody as many opportunities as you can,” Magee said.

HP Team

However, some North Carolina boys’ volleyball players are eager to face tough competition without having to hop on a plane to do it. Thanks to the development of the boys’ high performance (HP) program, a tougher playing environment is being cultivated across the state. USA Volleyball held its first-ever North Carolina HP tryout in Greensboro in March with 27 participants, and the first ever North Carolina HP team was formed and competed at the USA Volleyball High Performance Championships in July in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Holloway, who assembled the team, spread the word around the state, seeking any boys interested in joining a serious travel team. She received several responses; however the boys were sprinkled all over the state, hailing from the Outer Banks, Raleigh, Fayetteville, Winston, Cary and Charlotte. To reconcile the distance, the players would meet once a month at alternating locations around the North Carolina.

“Since we expanded our HP training to several different cities around the state, our head coach would disseminate a training plan to all of these satellite areas,” Holloway said. “So they were getting the same training and hearing the same systems and they were training with the girls.”

The team competed in several tournaments after Christmas, traveling to Orlando in January for a tournament and competing in the Ohio Valley Region Winterfest Volleyball Tournament in February. This allowed the team to see tougher competition and improve their game.

“We were steadily working towards getting the boys to see tougher volleyball,” Holloway said. “The more they saw, the more they loved it.”

The team’s next test was the AAU Championship in Orlando in June.

“We took a 17s and an 18s team down to AAU,” Holloway said. “What is amazing is that the 18s team finished fourth. We brought home a medal and one of the boys, Davy Nance, was named an All-American. It was their first chance to see higher competition.”

At the UsAV HP Championships, the Carolina Region finished ninth out of nine teams in the Boys’ National Youth Division but Holloway is optimistic that the groundwork for a solid program has been laid. Holloway’s goal is to cultivate a high level of competition in North Carolina that will allow the state’s fledgling college volleyball programs to recruit in-state.

“If we have all these colleges in North Carolina that have boys’ volleyball, it would be nice if those coaches could shop in North Carolina,” Holloway said. “They shouldn’t have to go to Virginia or Florida to find players.”

Conference Carolinas

James Petrik knows that everyone loves the underdog: a small team from a small conference that dares to take on the world and comes out on top. Conference Carolinas, a Division II athletic conference made up of teams from North Carolina and South Carolina, is making a move that will shake up the entire collegiate volleyball scene, and, supporters hope, thrust several underdog teams into the national spotlight.

Conference Carolinas is attempting to become the first NCAA Division I or II multi-sport conference to offer men’s volleyball; and barring unforeseen obstacles, that goal will soon become a reality. Currently, Lees-McRae College and Mount Olive College have established men’s volleyball programs, while Limestone College and Pfeiffer University will sponsor men’s volleyball for the first time in spring of 2010. King College of Tennessee also joined the conference as an associate member for men’s volleyball only. The conference must have at least six varsity teams competing to petition the NCAA for an automatic bid to the Men’s Volleyball Championship tournament.

At the Division I and II level, there are three conferences that offer men’s volleyball: the Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (EIVA), the Midwest Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) and the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF), all of which feature a mix of schools from several NCAA conferences. For example, the EIVA features Penn State of the Big Ten, Princeton of the Ivy League and George Mason of the Colonial Athletic League.

Conference Carolinas would be the first men’s volleyball conference comprised only of teams from the same conference.

According to Petrik, the head men’s and women’s volleyball coach at Lees-McRae University, the movement to add men’s volleyball as a sport to Conference Carolinas, especially the recent addition of two new conference teams and the inclusion of another NAIA school that has made the move to NCAA Division II, is an example of the success that the conference can achieve.

“I think it shows a little bit about men’s volleyball,” Petrik said.  “While everyone in the country is looking at sports to drop, here are two Division II schools that start men’s volleyball. In both cases, they started recruiting in January and by May, both coaches had 12-13 men on their roster.”

Petrik, whose Lees-McRae men’s squad features two graduates of the Cary YMCA Boys’ Volleyball Club, believes that the opportunity to compete for an NCAA championship will draw some of the nation’s best men’s volleyball players to North Carolina, and allow for the growth of the sport in-state.

“What it’s going to do is create opportunities for some of the better players in the country to stop and consider playing for a Division II team in the Carolinas,” Petrick said. “This will have a ripple effect in North Carolina. When a college like Pfeiffer shows that guys can play this sport and come to school here, that’s great for men’s volleyball because it’s right in Charlotte.”

Ultimately, Petrik hopes that in a few years, a team from Conference Carolinas can play the role of the underdog and make a splash on the national scene.

“I hope to see players from all over the country saying, ‘Hey, I want play for a national championship and I know I can be on this team and we can get there,’ but the name of the team would be unknown in the U.S. five years ago,” Petrick said. “The whole point is everyone loves a David versus Goliath story and sometimes the story comes true. For some players in this area, that would be a beautiful team to be a part of.”