February 22, 2024
Sports - McHenry County

Sports - McHenry County

Boys volleyball: Huntley begins new era with first varsity season against IHSA competition

Huntley's Josh Bremer sets the ball during volleyball practice at Huntley High School Thursday, March 9, 2017.

HUNTLEY – When Huntley’s Jacob Przydzial lets his classmates know that the school is looking to add players to the Red Raiders’ boys volleyball team, their reaction almost always is the same.

“They kind of look at me strange, and say, ‘Wait, what? The school has a (boys) volleyball team?’ ” said Przydzial, whose dad played volleyball and introduced him to the sport.

“I’m like, ‘Well, it’s not a full team yet, but it’s getting there.’ ”

Przydzial never had played volleyball before, but his interest peaked in 2015 after attending an FIVB World League match between the USA and Poland at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.

“It was intense,” he said. “It kind of hyped me up.”

More than a year ago, with the help and direction of former girls assistant coach Gerry Marchand and head coach Karen Naymola, Przydzial searched the hallways for potential players. He gathered 25 to 30 signatures and proposed the idea to activities director Chris Duncan.

The club was approved by District 158, and Huntley competed in select tournaments last spring. This year, the Raiders will compete as a full-fledged IHSA sport after applying in the fall.

The Raiders are the only team in the Fox Valley Conference with a boys volleyball team. There are 218 high school boys volleyball teams in the state, according to IHSA.org – up from 203 in 2016.

More than 80 boys expressed interest in joining a year ago, but some were turned off because it wasn’t an official IHSA team yet, Marchand said. They practiced two times a week – usually late at night – when the weather was nice and other teams weren’t using indoor space and facilities.

“The nicer it is outside, the easier it is for us to get gym space,” Marchand said. “We’ve kind of got to wait our turn.”

With the addition of a 55,800- square-foot field house last summer, the team was able to find time and space when other teams – such as girls soccer, baseball and softball – were able to practice outside.

Another problem Marchand ran into last year was transportation. Although the district paid for last year’s travel expenses, it was difficult to coordinate getting everyone to the same place and on time.

Sometimes, that led to the team being short on players. This year, the school is providing an activity bus that will seat at least 14 players, or just enough for a varsity team, Marchand said.

Marchand said the team has about 20 players this year, with more freshmen and sophomores than a year ago. Last year’s team had five seniors. The majority of the team doesn’t have any volleyball experience.

Three players return from last year, including senior Josh Bremer. Bremer, a setter, is the only player with volleyball experience. He played for six years at Top Flight Volleyball in Elgin, winning twice at nationals with his dad, Brian Bremer, as one of his coaches.

Returning with Bremer and Przydzial is Juan Collazo, a varsity soccer player, who plays libero. Brian Bremer, Josh Hobday and Colton Ford are assistant coaches with volleyball experience.

“It’s really difficult to find players because I think a lot of the guys still see it as a girls sport,” Josh Bremer said. “But once they come out here and see what it’s all about, they all love it. A lot of the guys are starting to play more in the summer on the beach, so they start really enjoying it.”

The team has no set practice schedule, and it is up to Marchand to find tournaments to compete in. Right now, Huntley is scheduled to play in the St. Charles East Invitational on April 8, and the Elgin Tournament on April 29.

Marchand is hopeful the team will be able to practice more than twice a week this year. The first couple of practices are used to teach fundamentals, court positioning and rules to newcomers.

“The first day (of practice) is just hitting balls around and seeing what happens,” said Marchand, who played on Northern Illinois University’s club volleyball team in college.

“You can’t make practice plans; you’ve just got to see what they can do and go by the minute. It makes it harder because you don’t really know what to expect or who is even going to show up.”

Marchand went in with high expectations last year but said he had to lower the bar early on. By the end of the season, however, the team was about where he had hoped it would be.

“I guess it would be like coaching a middle school team,” Marchand said. “They are so raw, but they are much more athletic.”

Huntley competed in four tournaments last year. He said that experience of playing against other teams, some of which with players 6-foot-5 or taller and multiple years of club experience, was a good eye-opener for many of the first-year players.

Huntley didn’t win any matches in its first two tournaments, but came away with a win in its third.

“They want to [win], and they get angry when they lose like any other team in any other sport,” Marchand said. “What we did last year was impressive, and I’d expect the same from these guys.

“We want to pick up some wins along the way and try to compete in the IHSA. We don’t expect to win all the time or anything, but we can at least compete and represent our school. That’s all that matters. These kids should be proud no matter what, because we’re mostly starting over again.”

Josh Bremer said he expects the team to be competitive, even without the five seniors from last year’s team.

“I expect us to do pretty well,” Bremer said. “A lot of the first-years improve very fast. ... We’ve got the height, and we’ve got the talent. Everybody out here is very athletic and they’ve either played soccer or basketball to stay in shape.

“I was afraid we wouldn’t have any height this year, but we’ve already got our two middles set up, and we’re just kind of looking for two right-side hitters. ... I think we can surprise some people.”

Alex Kantecki

Alex Kantecki

Alex is a sports writer for the Northwest Herald.