MARPLE TWP. — Eric Schneider rises up and pounds a thunderous spike that crashes to an undefended area of the court. Point to Cardinal O'Hara.
A guy playing for the girls volleyball team? Nope. The ladies play in the fall.
In case you haven't noticed, they're playing boys volleyball in the Catholic League this season. This is not a club sport or a trial run. It's a true varsity/JV venture, complete with playoffs and an eventual league and District 12 champion.
The league's athletic directors tried to introduce the sport on the varsity level last year, but could not get it off the ground.
"We just figured we'd give it a shot this year and see what happens," Archbishop Carroll athletic director Jim Corkery said.
It all came together rather quickly. Bonner-Prendergast did not have a coach a month ago. Mary Callan, the girls coach, ran things until the school hired Jordan Hankins three weeks ago, two weeks before the Friars' first scheduled game.
Considering how fast everything happened, the results have been pretty good. Eight of the 14 schools in the Catholic League have fielded a team, including Cardinal O'Hara and Bonner-Prendergast. Carroll tried to put a team together, but could not make it happen.
"We had some interest, but not enough to field a team," Corkery said. "We'll definitely field a team next year."
The reason for adding boys volleyball was simple: attracting students.
"We're always looking to improve,' Corkery said. "We're always looking to offer our students more academically and athletically and we felt this was one way to do that.'
Southeastern Pennsylvania is not exactly a hotbed for the sport. It's big in Bucks and Montgomery counties. The Suburban One League has 16 schools playing boys volleyball. The sport is even bigger in Central and Western Pennsylvania. Until this year, though, Haverford High and Glen Mills were the only schools in Delaware County to offer boys volleyball on the varsity level.
There is a thriving coed version on the CYO level in high school and the athletic directors are hoping to draw from that to help the game gain in popularity.
"I think it's a sport that can grow," O'Hara coach Bill Collins said. "It's like lacrosse 20 years ago. Once the guys got a chance to play it and saw how much fun it is, it began to grow. I think the same thing can happen with volleyball."
The initial results are positive. One of the players on O'Hara's roster is All-Delco football kicker Steve Weyler. He came out for the team as a way to stay in shape during the offseason. He never played the sport and did not know what to expect.
Weyler quickly learned that it's not the backyard version played at holiday barbecues.
"It's serious," said Weyler, who is headed to Villanova on a football scholarship. "It's real volleyball. It's a lot tougher than people realize and it's a really good time. The coaches are great and it's a great team sport. It's a lot of fun. I love it."
No one was happier to see O'Hara field a team than seniors Jake Callahan and Chris Manning. They've played coed volleyball on the CYO level throughout high school, winning two Region 25 championships with St. Dot's in the last three years. Kaplan and Manning bugged Collins and assistant coach Brian Bernatowicz for years about starting a boys team.
"As soon as I heard we were starting a team I contacted all of my friends who played CYO to come out for the team," Callahan said.
"I jumped for joy," the 6-5 Manning said. "I was ecstatic."
The level of play is what one would expect of a sport in its infancy. The teams in the Catholic League are not as advanced as those that have fielded programs for years, but it is better than Collins, Bernatowicz or Hankins expected.
"I'm pleasantly surprised," said Collins, whose team was 2-2 heading into Monday's game with Archbishop Wood. "We're farther along than we expected. We're teaching them things that we didn't think we would be teaching them this early. It's really encouraging."
"They're really good listeners," Hankins said. "They want to learn."
To aid in that education, Collins brought it several members of O'Hara's District 12 girls championship volleyball team. Brittany Byrne, Meghan Czapka, Caitlin Fitz and Monica McNicholas serve as team managers and student assistants. Collins and Bernatowicz will instruct the guys on various techniques and then have them work with Byrne and Czapka off to the side in a one-on-one session.
"The coaches were surprised at how quickly we picked up the fundamentals, but I wasn't," Manning said. "We're serious about this. We want to be the best players we can be."
They're laying a foundation at the same time.
"We want the sport to grow," Callahan said. "We want more guys to come out."
The coaches feel the same way. The majority of the 15 players O'Hara has on its roster are seniors. It's the same at Bonner-Prendergast, where Hankins said at least eight of the 14 players on his team are seniors.
"For the sport to grow we have to get younger guys involved," Hankins said.
Weyler, Callahan and Manning do not see that as a problem.
"It's a different type of sport than the guys are used to playing," Weyler said. "Once you play it, though, you realize that it's a great sport."
"There are a lot of guys who want to get into the game because they play it on the CYO level," Manning said. "It's a great sport, especially for guys who don't play a spring sport. You have to be somewhat athletic, but if you put your mind to it you can do well and have fun doing it."