April 25, 2014

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Amherst boys enjoying first volleyball season

As the inaugural season of boys volleyball winds down at Amherst High School, most of the 21 players on the roster are left with only one regret — that they didn’t take up the sport much sooner.

“Volleyball has been fun and challenging,” junior Anthony Eliopoulos said. “When I first heard in the fall that we were starting a boys volleyball team I thought it might be something interesting to try. I have hit a ball around on the beach with my friends before, now I wish I had played for real before now.”

The program was the brainchild of Amherst resident Chuck Voss. He is the women’s volleyball coach at Cleveland State University and is involved with the sport on many levels. Two of his sons, Sterling and Denver, are on the Comets team.

“My sons were part of the reason I did this, but more importantly I wanted to give something back to this community that has supported me and my family, and my goal is to share this great sport with as many people as possible,” Voss said.

It was 16 months from the time Voss made his initial proposal for the club to Amherst athletic director Ron Hause and when the team won its first match. The Comets (1-6) defeated North Royalton on April 23.

Eliopoulos, who also plays basketball and is the starting quarterback on the football team, said he was met with skepticism when he told his friends he was going to play volleyball.

“Most people didn’t even believe me when I said I was going to do this. They thought it was some kind of joke,” he said. “But I think this is something that will really grow. We have a pretty solid group of juniors on the team that will be back next year.”

According to Voss, there are about 85 boys programs in Ohio. The Comets are the only team in Lorain County.

The sport is strongest in the Columbus and Cincinnati areas. Since the first boys state tournament was conducted by the Ohio High School Boys Volleyball Association in 1988, St. Edward and Akron Hoban are the only schools in the Northeast District to bring home a state title.

“There is a great tradition of volleyball in Lorain County on the girls side,” Voss said. “I think if the state would step up and sponsor the sport for the boys it would spread like wildfire.”

The Ohio High School Athletic Association generally requires a sport to be played in 150 schools and in at least four of the six districts of the state before sponsoring a championship. The last sport to be added was boys and girls bowling in 2007.

A number of Amherst student-athletes are doing double duty this spring, playing volleyball while also competing in tennis or track and field. One of the tennis players learning his way around the volleyball net is senior Zach Sroka.

“The only sport I have ever played before is tennis, but I wanted to come out and give this a shot,” Sroka said. “Sometimes by the time you are a senior you fall into a routine, and this was a new challenge for me. I’ve played tennis with Sterling for like two years now and he pushed a lot of his friends and a lot of the tennis players to come out and give this a shot. On the tennis court you are out there by yourself, but here you have to work as a team.”

While Sroka will have graduated before the Amherst program really has a chance to take off, he feels he has found a new sport for life.

“I never played much volleyball before, although now I wish I had,” he said. “I have had so much fun and Coach Voss has sparked a passion for the sport in me. Now when I get to college I want to find a volleyball club to play with.”

Voss played AAU volleyball in his home state of Michigan before continuing his career at The Ohio State University, where he was a captain and two-year starter. He has been the CSU women’s coach since 2000, and said there is not much of an adjustment coaching boys.

“The boys can play at a higher level as far as height is concerned — they might be able to jump higher — otherwise it’s the exact same game,” Voss said. “To me it’s all the same, it’s a great sport and I treat the boys exactly the same way I would treat the girls.”

One of the biggest surprises has been how quickly the Amherst school community embraced the team.
“Our first home game I think there were more people here than at some of our football games,” Eliopoulos joked.

Contact Todd Shapiro at 329-7135 or ctsports@chroniclet.com.