DCA on the ground floor of growth in boys volleyball

Published 12:52 pm Tuesday, May 17, 2022

One of the smallest schools in the state has become a pioneer in one of the fastest-growing high school sports.

Barely three years after the school cobbled together its first boys volleyball team, Danville Christian Academy is riding the wave of the sport’s first significant growth spurt in Kentucky.

DCA had one of the first three boys volleyball teams in central Kentucky and is now one of 15 or so schools with teams.

It is by far the smallest school playing the sport — and the only school playing in this area — and some of its competitors are among the very largest schools in the state. But that doesn’t matter for the time being as big and little schools start their programs from the same place.

“It’s new to everybody, so we can have our little school and our little team, and they can have their great big schools and their little teams, and we’re all on the same playing level,” DCA coach Jeannie Gayle Hurst said.

DCA will conclude its third season Saturday in the Kentucky Volleyball Coaches Association Boys Volleyball State Tournament. The KVCA governs the sport that isn’t yet sanctioned by the KHSAA — the sport’s leaders hope it will be someday — and conducts a championship for any school club team in the state that wants to participate.

Participation is on the rise at DCA, which has few spring sports for boys. There are 11 high school and middle school students on the roster.

“It’s an awesome sport to have at DCA because it doesn’t take a bunch of select players like football,” said Kiefer Howland, one of the Warriors’ three seniors. “You can really make a team out of anybody, and DCA is a great place because we can add Christian values into it, which makes it really follow the school values as well.”

Hurst has coached the team since its inception. She has also been involved with DCA’s girls volleyball program since it was formed in 2013 and has been that team’s head coach for several years.

“I love my girls, but these boys just are so much fun,” she said.

Several of the DCA boys also play basketball, and Hurst said they approach volleyball a bit differently.

“Basketball is so intense, that they’re just having fun (with volleyball),” she said. “It’s just a different sport. They’re laughing and cutting up.”

There was plenty of cutting up on the court last week during the Warriors’ victory over Marion County in their final home match of the season. A couple of players even played the ball soccer style, sending it over the net off their foot.

Howland said the sport’s club status allows for a relaxed atmosphere.

“We can take it as seriously as we want,” he said.

That said, the Warriors have worked hard to improve their game. They typically have four or five practices and two matches per week, and Howland, who joined the team last year, said they have come a long way over the past two seasons.

“Last year it was definitely rough to start the season,” he said. “It was really building community as much as it was building a sport. Now we’ve built the community, so now it’s just honing in on the skills.”

Hurst said DCA is probably in the middle of the pack in the group of central Kentucky schools it plays, which includes most of the public schools in Fayette County, both public schools in Franklin County and West Jessamine, the top team in the region.

“Everybody is about at the same level right now, (and) I’d say we may have a leg up on some of the teams,” she said.

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations’ most recent participation survey, boys volleyball was sanctioned by athletic governing bodies in 25 states in the 2018-19 school year, and at least a couple more state associations have sanctioned the sport since then.

The KHSAA requires that at least 50 schools express interest before it will consider sanctioning a sport. There were at least 13 schools playing in Kentucky this season, according to records compiled by the KVCA, and another 20 or so expressed interest in playing prior to the season.

The coaches’ association began an initiative to grow boys volleyball in 2019, when three Catholic schools in Jefferson County had the only club teams in the state.

DCA joined the movement that year with a six-man roster that included only one of its own students, Ryan Ridge, an eighth-grader who had been helping with the school’s girls volleyball team, which Hurst also coaches.

There were four players from the locally based LIGHT homeschool cooperative and one from Galilean Christian Academy in Casey County.

“All of them were helping with their (girls volleyball) teams,” Hurst said.

The team played matches against Henry Clay and West Jessamine, the only other teams in the area at the time.

The 2020 season was wiped out when spring sports were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but DCA revived its program in 2021 with a team made up entirely of its own students.

Howland, who has previously participated in soccer, football and horse vaulting, said he was attracted to the pace of volleyball.

“It’s a really fast-scoring game. The change in points and leads can go really fast,” he said. “It’s fun to watch, it’s fun to play. And it’s a good team sport. You really have to depend on your teammates and the people around you.

He also said he likes that players with different skill sets can find a place on the floor.

“You’re able to find what suits you best and practice those skills,” he said. “It’s an easy game to learn the basics of, and then it’s a hard game to master.”

Hurst said many boys who join the program find it’s a more intense workout than they were expecting from a non-contact sport. She said they also approach the game differently than the girls she coaches.

“They love getting on top of the ball and just slamming it down,” she said. “I tell them, ‘You’ve got to keep it in the lines.”

Howland said he thinks he’ll continue to play intramural or recreational volleyball after he goes to college next year.

“It’s a fun sport you can play with a lot of people,” he said.

DCA’s starters range from seniors to a sixth-grader. Seniors Howland, Jameson Howard and Xavier Yamo were honored in a senior night ceremony last week, and they have played key roles this season along with juniors Ridge, Grayson Domidion, Noah Meyer and Mason Zollner.

The Warriors will play in the KVCA junior varsity tournament Friday night at Lafayette, and the varsity will play Saturday in the KVCA state tournament at Henry Clay.

With fewer than 60 students in grades 9-12, DCA is an outlier among its competitors. It is dwarfed in size by St. Xavier and Tates Creek, the two teams in its pool at Saturday’s state tournament, and it is about one-fifteenth the size of Western Hills, the next smallest school in central Kentucky with a boys volleyball team.

Yet Howland said he isn’t surprised his school is able to offer the sport.

“We make any sport work if we want it,” he said. “We’re used to playing in small sizes. That’s the way we like it because we can grow. We’re accepting of new players, but we also work with what we’ve got.”