It’s not common for a team to simultaneously get better as it gets younger, but that’s exactly what the Grace Christian Academy boys volleyball team has a chance to do this spring in its second year under head coach Nate Schultz.
Schultz, who played middle hitter for Grace from 2005 to 2008, is excited about the prospects for a team that won just two matches a season ago and returns just three players from that team, one a senior.
“The new players that I got are just really athletic. They’re quick learners,” Schultz said. He referred to this group as scrappy. “It just looks like they really want to be good. I think we can beat almost any team in the league if we have a little bit more practice.”
Grace’s senior is Kyle Davis, a powerful outside hitter, who should provide the Knights with plenty of offense. While he was in Costa Rica the last two weeks, for his senior trip, Grace began its season without him, winning one of three matches.
In the season opener, on March 17, the Knights lost 3-0 (25-16, 25-18, 25-20) to Spencerville Adventist Academy of Montgomery County, the team that defeated them in the first round of last year’s playoffs.
Grace improved with each set of that match. The following day, Grace came out tight against Archbishop Carroll of Washington, D.C., but dominated the final two sets of a 3-0 victory (26-24, 25-10, 25-15). Then, on Monday, Grace lost to a very good and deceptive Berman Hebrew Academy of Montgomery County 3-0 (25-14, 25-17, 25-24), but once again improved throughout the match.
To even win one of those matches, half as much as the team won last year, this early in the season, and without their senior leader, speaks to why Schultz is so optimistic. Carroll was the only team Grace defeated last year, winning both matches, but this year’s victory was by a larger deficit than either of those. Upon Davis’ return, Grace will have a few weeks to prepare for a rematch with Hebrew, which it plays again on April 7, following spring break. Schultz expects a more competitive match. He said Davis is a good leader.
“I definitely like his positive attitude,” Schultz said. “And he’s just really athletic. He’s not the tallest but he can jump really high.
“Kyle is definitely a good leader on the team. He leads by example and he also just has a really positive attitude. I enjoy having him on the team, for sure.”
Of course, no team is made up of just one player, and on the opposite side of Davis is junior David Jones, who can also be lethal as an outside hitter and makes Grace less predictable. Jones is taller than Davis, but also athletic with the ability to put down hard spikes.
What can predicate whether or not this team makes a leap from the first-round playoff exit of last year, to a deeper run, however, is its role players. Grace needs someone to step up as a setter, in order to give Davis and Jones good opportunities.
The Knights lost their setter from last year, so while the team may be more athletic, learning the fundamentals can be huge for some of the more inexperienced players. The Knights play defense, but turning it into offensive opportunities is where the team has to grow.
The season before Schultz took over as head coach, his younger brother, Danny Schultz, was wrapping up his final season as a middle hitter. Danny was apart of Grace’s Interscholastic Boys Volleyball League championship, in 2013, under head coach Sara Young. This year’s team isn’t quite ready to reach those type of ambitions, but it’s certainly headed in the right direction.
“I think we’ll at least make it past the first round,” Nate said. “Hopefully we can play [good] enough in the league to where we can have a good seeding, so we’re not playing the best team in the league in the first round. So that’s my goal, is to place a little bit higher, so we that we can have a good seeding.”