To say the least, McHenry, a 6-foot-7 senior center blocker for the UCLA males’s volleyball crew, was an outlier amongst his friends when it got here to his chosen sport (although he additionally was a standout observe and area athlete).
Nathan Lietzke understands.
Like McHenry, the fifth-year Stanford setter grew up right here in Austin taking part in that “different” sport. His father, Glen, began Austin Junior Volleyball, the place Nathan and McHenry had been membership teammates.
It was Lietzke’s solely publicity to the game. His highschool, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Faculty in Austin, didn’t also have a boys crew till his senior season.
After a few of his highschool classmates got here to see the boys crew’s inaugural match — for a lot of of them, their first time seeing the game dwell — Lietzke vividly remembers their reactions.
“Some folks got here as much as me from my college and mentioned, ‘That’s most likely one of the vital enjoyable highschool sporting occasions I’ve ever been to no matter sport.’ I’m like, ‘You guys ought to come watch my membership crew.’
“Merrick and I had been touring to all the massive membership tournaments, however they (classmates and associates) by no means acquired to see it right here. It’s actually enjoyable to be part of the expansion course of. From these experiences and exhibiting my associates form of highlights and movie of the perfect folks taking part in, I knew there was type of an urge for food there that was by no means actually fed or tapped into.”
As Austin conducts the First Level Collegiate Problem for the third time, there may be rising proof that these appetites are being fed. Within the prior two years, the occasion, the brainchild of Glen Lietzke and backed by First Level Volleyball Basis, has staged matches in entrance of robust crowds at Austin Conference Heart.
It coincides with the corresponding Southwest Basic boys membership match and crew clinics.
Thursday night time, 180 boys took half in drills and ability workouts demonstrated by every of the six groups at this yr’s occasion: reigning nationwide champion UCLA, Penn State, Stanford, Ohio State, Ball State and USC.
The variety of boys taking part was up greater than 50 from final yr.
“The second Glen (Lietzke) despatched me an electronic mail saying do you wish to be a participant this yr, I used to be the primary to leap in,” USC coach Jeff Nygaard mentioned, “as a result of it’s an honor to be right here and an honor to compete towards all these groups, but it surely’s additionally an honor to assist develop the game.”
Nygaard, who grew up in Wisconsin and was a two-time NCAA champion on UCLA and a 1996 and 2000 Olympian.
“Me rising up, listening to about Texas volleyball wasn’t one thing on the highway map … so any potential to develop our sport in America is a giant deal. USC desires to be part of that.”
Wade Garard, CEO and co-founder of First Level together with UCLA coach John Speraw, walked in regards to the maze of courts as the school coaches and gamers put the boys via drills. He snapped footage on his smartphone, chatting with individuals alongside the way in which.
That is what he envisioned when the First Level Collegiate Problem was launched. He mentioned the occasion has exceeded his expectations, and he was effusive in his reward for the gamers giving of their time to instruct the youth.
“… In an NIL period the place they’re compensated typically for one of these clinic work, to spend time with these younger males and to be on the court docket with them, it issues rather a lot to them. It issues rather a lot to the mother and father,” Garard mentioned.
Added USC redshirt junior reverse Jack Deuchar: “Hopefully, we will encourage as lots of the younger volleyball gamers as we will to proceed to pursue the sport for so long as they wish to. And you’ll inform there’s an power within the constructing going into the weekend.”
Stanford coach John Kosty has introduced his crew all three years. Like McHenry and Nathan Lietzke, he can respect their enthusiasm for seeing so many younger males being launched to volleyball.
When he acquired concerned within the recreation 5 many years in the past, he mentioned, there weren’t AAU groups or membership groups. There weren’t even highschool groups within the overwhelming majority of states.
“The place we had been to the place we at the moment are and the assist we’re getting from each the AVCA and First Level, there are plenty of teams exhibiting why males’s volleyball belongs on this nation, why it belongs in excessive colleges and why our recreation is rising on the collegiate stage,” Kosty mentioned.
“We’re very prideful and privileged to carry our sport to a state that has not been identified for its boys volleyball however produces nice athletes and nice volleyball gamers.”
Throughout its transient — however impactful — run, the First Level Collegiate Problem has operated on a “seeing is believing” mantra. In different phrases, it’s necessary to get eyes on the lads’s recreation.
Having the Southwest Basic match that runs parallel with the collegiate matches, Garard mentioned, makes it simple for teenagers to complete their competitors then stroll over to the subsequent occasion room to see the “large boys” play.
“I do assume the various head coaches right here for years have talked about doing a few various things,” Speraw mentioned. “One is doing occasions like this together with tournaments only for the publicity. So to have one thing like this exist is improbable.
“The second factor we talked about was purposely scheduling matches in areas the place we’d be capable of encourage development. Can we go to locations that don’t at the moment have in depth boys volleyball or collegiate groups within the space to point out what we will do?
“When you see it dwell, it hooks you … so how can we get out and present different folks our sport?”
McHenry famous that even when being uncovered to volleyball doesn’t encourage everybody to play, it at the least can increase curiosity for the game and, maybe, develop the fan base.
“Extra guys are exhibiting curiosity, and they’re asking me questions they usually simply wish to know extra in regards to the sport,” McHenry mentioned. “I feel that has been plenty of development, simply to have extra conversations with regards to it. After I used to inform folks about taking part in volleyball at UCLA it was only a overseas idea the place now it’s extra accepted and folks perceive it.”
Finally, McHenry added, he’s completely happy to see younger boys have an opportunity to do one thing he didn’t at their age.
In fact, that doesn’t imply McHenry and the opposite faculty gamers don’t profit from the First Level Collegiate Problem. There’s a lot in it for them, primarily testing themselves towards among the nation’s high groups.
4 of the six groups – UCLA, Ball State, USC and Ohio State – are making their first appearances. (McHenry famous he was “fairly salty the final two years watching this match go on and never with the ability to be part of it.”)
Penn State is in for the second time, and all six — that is the primary yr the Problem area has six groups, up from 4 — are ranked within the AVCA’s most up-to-date ballot. The coaches see it as form of an “NCAA Event Lite.”
“That is one thing our guys have been speaking about for a very long time,” Ohio State coach Kevin Burch mentioned. “And if you wish to put together a crew for a nationwide title run, you need challenges all through the season, and there’s no higher strategy to problem them than be at a match like this.”
Added Penn State coach Mark Pavlik: “They’ve created an occasion that’s similar to what our pupil athletes will expertise on the NCAA (Event) stage. The construction, the scheduling, how the ground is laid out, the followers. I can’t communicate extremely sufficient about how this occasion has developed over the previous three years.”
Speraw known as it “a preview of issues to come back on the finish of the season.”
However maybe extra importantly, it’s a preview of what’s to come back for males’s volleyball.
“It’s additionally actually cool that we get to be a part of the clinic beforehand to truly get to work together with the children,” Nathan Lietzke mentioned. “I bear in mind not too way back when these youngsters would have been me and Merrick. These are alternatives we didn’t have once we had been in membership, so it’s fairly cool to have the ability to give again to these youngsters.”