The new competitive boys’ volleyball team at TJ is the first step towards creating more co-ed athletics opportunities.
It’s very common to find both men and women playing volleyball for fun, though competitive volleyball has traditionally only been a sport primarily dominated by women. While the sport of volleyball has existed for a long time, men’s volleyball was first seen in the summer olympics in 1964; it was rare to see men playing anywhere else at the time. This 2023 spring season, however, schools across the nation started to make volleyball a much more inclusive sport, adding it to the list of the very few co-ed high school sports that already exist. Thomas Jefferson High School is now one of the schools to incorporate boys’ volleyball into their spring season sports, and it’s all thanks to one TJ sophomore with a bright idea and the passion to play, Aiden McSudds.
McSudds explained that after playing just one club season, he emailed TJ’s Athletic Director, Anne Rice, trying to get at least a club going, without much hope of building an entire organized team. To his surprise, the girls’ volleyball coach heard about the issue and offered to bring in an outside club coach, Matt Swick, who was ready and willing to coach a brand new team. The boys’ team got to work, initially starting off rough, but they then began to learn how to work together as they gained experience. Currently, varsity has a record of four wins and ten losses – while not exactly ideal, it has helped them learn more about the sport and gain experience.
McSudds believes that while TJ’s team might not have a winning record, the boys are “definitely a lot better than when we started.” The team has lots of players who are new to the sport, so it has great potential for future seasons. McSudds explained that the team “has a lot of freshmen and sophomores, so in some of the following years, they could be stronger.”
TJ senior John Marler-Vu, who also plays on the team, added that despite their rough start, “we’ve got a lot of young guys ready to compete, ready to learn, and the way we’re playing, it’s already a success.”
For a lot of the athletes on TJ’s team, this season is primarily a learning experience that will lead to future improvement, especially with so many members who have never played the sport. Marler-Vu explains that for him, boys’ volleyball “was an opportunity to get back into high school sports and really push myself.” He adds that because of it being a new sport, many wouldn’t take the opportunity to try out for the team because “being on a first year program can be a lot of pressure.” Another player on the team, TJ junior Charlie VanAbbema added that, “as we gain experience, we will start to actually win games, because most of us have never played volleyball before.”
Despite the team’s struggles to gain high rankings so far, Marler-Vu believes that “the rest of the season will go really well. We’ve learned a lot within the last month and a half, and we’ve been able to stay competitive against some of the best teams in state, so I [can] see our team picking it up and winning some serious games to finish out the season.” Vanabbema added that the improvement he has seen with the team so far has been phenomenal, and that next season, with more experienced players, they will definitely have a better shot at higher CHSAA rankings.
As the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) and other professional women’s teams gain more and more popularity with regards to the professional men’s teams, one major question for high school athletics is whether men’s volleyball will ever be as well-known and commonly played as women’s. Marler-Vu believes that, “it has become one of the highest rising sports in the country; boys’ volleyball is even attracting colleges to create programs because of how much popularity it’s gaining, and it allows players to find scholarships that didn’t used to be there. The potential is truly there for this sport and its players.” He added that as far as positive impacts go, men’s volleyball certainly has its fair share. “Players that aren’t getting the greatest opportunities to come out and compete [are able to] find a sport that has a lot of future opportunity after high school,” said Marler-Vu.
As TJ’s season enters its final stretch of games, the boys’ volleyball team is showing noticeable improvement. The TJ players have shown that they are capable of overcoming adversity and the struggles that come with starting a new sport; the boys are determined to finish this season strong and carry their momentum and newly gained experience into the next season.