NEW PALESTINE — The opening was there, and Erza Schwier reacted almost immediately once the volleyball dropped into his swing radius.
As the New Palestine boys volleyball team’s kills leader this season, Schwier leapt into action and dropped the hammer with his team trailing the Dragons’ girls varsity volleyball team, 9-4, in the third set during an exhibition match inside the high school gymnasium.
As the volleyball descended rapidly toward the floor, the Dragon boys volleyball club began celebrating.
Perhaps a little too early, though.
The Dragon girls, known for their defensive prowess, dug out the attack and rallied back, securing the point instead, en route to a 3-0 (25-9, 25-18. 25-15) sweep on Monday night.
Schwier and his teammates couldn’t do anything but smile as the whistle blew. Lesson learned, and more importantly, all in good fun.
“I knew it was still in play, but yeah, we got caught looking,” Schwier laughed. “That’s on us.”
No harm. No foul.
In their first year as a club team, the Dragon boys often gain new knowledge daily, but it’s for a purpose, even before it was made official this past week.
As boys volleyball pioneers in Southern Hancock County, the current Dragon players are paving the way for an activity that the Indiana High School Athletic Association declared an “emerging sport.”
The IHSAA board of directors added both girls wrestling and boys volleyball to its emerging sport process a week ago during its annual review of the by-laws in Indianapolis.
The additions of both sports means a pathway has been created for the eventual possibility of both becoming recognized sports with sponsorship of an official state tournament.
Currently, the IHSAA’s data collection states there are 42 schools participating in boys volleyball out of its 407 member schools. The Indiana Boys Volleyball Coaches Association has conducted its own state tournament since 1994, and for the sport to officially be sanctioned by the IHSAA, 50 percent of the membership must participate.
At the moment, New Palestine is ahead of the curve as the lone school in the county with an active club.
At 4-12 on the season, the Dragon boys team began operations this past March with its season opener at Southport and posted its first-ever victory at Lawrence North, 2-0, on April 16.
With 19 varsity players on the roster, 12 of them are seniors, including Schwier, but the turnout was even beyond head coach Amy Roan’s expectations.
“I just spoke to (New Palestine athletic director) Al Cooper about this in the fall, thinking, this is really something we should consider doing. Then, we had 56 guys show up to the first call-out meeting. Then, 40 showed up to the first open gyms. It was kind of off and running from that point on,” Roan said.
The interest was strong enough that the Dragon boys volleyball club program has three teams, including a junior varsity and junior varsity two squad.
The goal is to build from the ground up, but the seniors are laying the foundation up top despite the ups and downs.
“Those victories this season have definitely helped us gain confidence and we know our potential. It’s just frustrating when in some matches that we know we can play better and we don’t, but that naturally comes with experience. But, it’s a good group and we’re growing together and getting better every match,” Schwier said.
“I’m really happy for the younger guys that are getting involved now, so they’ll be able to grow with the sport and become better. I’m looking forward to those guys being able to compete in the IHSAA.”
The idea of boys volleyball initially started as a suggestion by Roan, formerly Amy Schreiber, a 1997 New Palestine graduate, to Cooper before taking flight.
Roan played volleyball at New Palestine before embarking on a collegiate career that led to stints at IUPUI and later Mercer University.
After graduation, Roan focused on coaching with time spent at University High School in Carmel (2001 and 2002), Edinboro University in Pennsylvania (2004), University of North Carolina in Wilmington (2003-04), University of Maine (2004-2005) and Eastern Illinois.
The high school chemistry teacher of six years has also instructed at Circle City Volleyball Club in Indianapolis, the Indy Juniors Volleyball Club in Zionsville and with Indiana Volleyball Academy in Carmel.
“I’ve always coached girls until this season. Volleyball is kind of old for me, but coaching young men, that’s new,” Roan said.
The game remains the same, though, Roan emphasized, and when it pertains to competing, her team never wanes despite the odds.
“I wouldn’t say we were humbled necessarily just because my mindset going in was we were the underdogs,” Schwier smiled while referring to his team’s exhibition loss to the girls program. “But, it was definitely good for us and just fun. Hopefully, the tradition will continue and the boys will get some wins under their belts.”
Once the Dragon boys do start winning, the starting point will begin with the class of 2022.
Utilizing fundraisers and community support, the Dragon boys volleyball team purchased uniforms through donations and special events prior to the season. Senior banners were made specifically for the players and the girls program has welcomed the new teams into their volleyball family.
“It’s cool to have a men’s program now. It’s such an up-and-coming sport, so it was really fun to see them in action and fun to get together and do a little open-gym event with us,” Dragon girls volleyball head coach Kelli Gabehart said. “It was a lot of fun for the girls. We practiced on the men’s net the past couple of open gyms, and I thought they looked really good for being on that high net.”
Girls volleyball is played with a net reaching 7-feet, 4 1/8-inches compared to the boys’ 7-feet, 11 5/8-inches.
During the exhibition, the girls hardly noticed the difference, and the boys proved they belonged here and in the future.
“I’m hoping the boys will be able to hit against my players and have them in the gym together. Just the athleticism that the guys can bring will be helpful in preparation. And, I think, the girls have the experience and knowledge of the game, the technical skill work, to share with the boys,” Gabehart said.
Often the girls players assist during boys practice, and Monday’s fundraiser event for both programs was a shared unofficial workout.
“I can definitely see us working together,” Gabehart said. “It was (Amy’s) idea to put on this event and use it as a fundraiser for our two programs. I think, she wanted to get the word out, too, about the boys program to have our two families come and see them play and get more support in general.”
The sport continues to grow, and Roan envisions the trend building into something special once boys volleyball garners IHSAA recognition.
“We want to see volleyball grow in the county and in the conference. We want to eventually start a program in the middle school and the junior high to really get the younger boys involved,” Roan said. “We just want to get them thinking about it early.”
Roan, assistant coach Jon Polster and the boys team intend to host a youth volleyball camp next month to further introduce the sport as a potential athletic outlet for male competitors.
“We really kind of wish we could be here through the progression of the program, but I definitely think it will be cool to say something once New Pal becomes a powerhouse in men’s volleyball, which is the goal. To say that we were on the first team and kind of helped push that and get it going,” Schwier said.
“We couldn’t ask for a better coach. I don’t think there’s a more qualified coach to lead the first boys team. I know she really wants the program to become a powerhouse school in men’s volleyball, and I truly believe she can make that happen.”
2022 New Palestine Boys Volleyball
1. Ian Faubion;5-11;12;MH
2. Jake Cwikla;6-2;11;0H/MH
3. Riley Crickmore;5-10;12;S
4. Will Hahn;6-1;12;OH
5. Ethan Hobbs;6-3;11;MH/RS
6. Carter Hacker;6-2;11;OH
7. Tyler Shultz;6-0;12;DS/OH
8. Tyrus Moorman;6-1;12;MH
9. James O’Dell;5-8;11;OH/S
10. Jacob Lane;6-1;12;OH
11. Aaron Smith;5-7;9;DS/S
12. Garrett Evans;5-9;12;DS/S
13. Ezra Schwier;6-1;12;RS
14. Ethan Sleeth;6-0;12;OH
15. Evan Sleeth;6-0;12;OH
16. Jaxon McDaniel;6-2;12;OH
18. Corbin Lewis;6-3;12;MH
19. Jack Rossell;5-9;11;OH/DS
20. Eli Martin;5-0;9;L
Head Coach: Amy Roan
Assistant Coach: Jon Polster