GENEVA – The Geneva boys volleyball program’s progress in its short history has been dramatic.
After having only nine players to choose from and playing a limited schedule in its debut season in 2011, the Vikings surged forward to share the Upstate Eight Conference River championship with St. Charles East last season.
The program’s Year 3 results will start coming in Saturday when Geneva opens the season in a tournament at Plainfield North, but the Vikings already are winning off the court. Coach KC Johnsen said the Vikings have more than 40 players in the program, and even had to make cuts this spring.
“That was one of the goals, especially the first two, three years, to make sure we had a nice volleyball program that created enough interest,” Johnsen said. “We didn’t know if we could have a program with nine boys for very many years, so we’re real excited we have this many kids playing this year.”
Senior middle hitter Dominic Bondi exemplifies the sharp learning curve the Vikings have successfully navigated.
Bondi came out for volleyball as a sophomore with practically no background in the sport. Three years later, he’s turned into a reliable, quality performer who even has gained outside, club experience.
“I came onto this court really only knowing gym volleyball, which isn’t much skill,” Bondi said. “Now, I’m varsity level. Not too bad.”
The Vikings have practiced this preseason in the former Coultrap Elementary gymnasium as gym space has been at a premium at the high school because of the cold, damp March weather.
Make no mistake, though – Geneva is rolling out a legitimate, high school program these days.
“Winning conference last year, that was laying down the foundation, telling teams we’re not a practice team anymore,” Bondi said. “We’re not going to be an easy win.”
Bondi recalls the Vikings struggling mightily to field a JV lineup in addition to its varsity team three years ago, as the teams had much more overlap than would be ideal.
This year, there is actual competition for spots at positions from the freshman level up, though the Vikings aren’t beyond needing to tap creative solutions at some positions.
At the all-important setter spot, Swiss foreign exchange student Guillaume Rey is pushing for time, though Johnsen is also high on swimmer-by-trade Nathan Jesko, a sophomore.
“He spends a lot of time in the pool so he’s a pretty good athlete, and I think he’ll do a pretty good job for us,” Johnsen said of Jesko.
Bondi and senior outside hitter Mason Stierwalt – both of whom have been with the Vikings from the beginning – project to be the team’s leaders.
The 6-foot-5 Stierwalt expects to move from middle hitter to the outside this spring, and should receive offensive support from junior Chris Parrilli, better known for his basketball exploits.
Bondi and Stierwalt both say players have had to do plenty of wrangling of their classmates to help beef up the program’s numbers, often encountering initial resistance from those who still consider volleyball to be more of a girls sport.
The presence of Johnsen – Geneva’s longtime, successful girls volleyball coach – has helped bring the program credibility, Stierwalt said. Johnsen was not initially certain he’d stick with boys volleyball long-term, but here he is.
“Definitely having KC, I mean he’s a great coach, he’s a great guy, we all respect him,” Stierwalt said. “He’s pretty much brought this program up from shambles. We credit him for most of it.”
BOYS VOLLEYBALL SEASON PREVIEW: PLAYERS TO WATCH
Kevin Beach, St. Charles North, Sr., OH
The versatile Beach is a big offensive threat and also capable of piling up the digs.
Dominic Bondi, Geneva, Sr., MH
Bondi has come a long way in his three-year varsity career and is now in position to lead the Vikings' bid to repeat as conference champs.
Ryan Dal Degan, St. Charles North, Sr., L/DS
The third-year varsity player is captain of a North Stars team that returns six starters from last year's 21-14 season.
Jeff Jendryk, St. Francis, Jr., MH
The 6-foot-7 force is considered among the top middle hitters in his class nationally, coach Mike Lynch says.
Matt Metzler, St. Francis, Sr., OH
The 6-foot-4 Metzler figures to fit in nicely on the right side for the towering Spartans, who opened the season Monday with a win against Glenbard North.
Sam Pulcanio, St. Charles East, Sr., L
Pulcanio was one of East's top players last year as a junior, including a strong performance in a key conference win against St. Charles North.
Tim Robbins, Wheaton Academy, Sr., MH
Robbins, a Lakeland College recruit, hopes to be a catalyst in helping Wheaton Academy bounce back from a disappointing 2012 season.
Robert Smith, St. Francis, Jr., S
The 5-foot-8 Smith, one of the area's top distributors, is among five returning starters for a St. Francis team that won 25 games last year.
Mason Stierwalt, Geneva, Sr., OH
The 6-foot-5 Stierwalt is likely to shift from the middle to the outside this season as Stierwalt eyes a big finish to his productive Geneva career.
Jimmy Vainisi, St. Charles North, Sr., DS
Vainisi, in his third year on North's varsity, should be able to deliver the ball to setter Pat Misiewicz consistently to help North transition from defense to offense.