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NAIA men’s volleyball is a sport seeking growth and exposure


The national championship is in Cedar Rapids this week, but will Iowa State boys volleyball move beyond a junior club sport?


William Penn Ike Papis (17), William Penn Britten Bialis (21) and William Penn Landon Krause (23) reach to block a hit from Reinhardt's Rodolfo Biegelmayer (4) in the second set during the NAIA men's volleyball tournament at Alliant Energy PowerHouse in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Wednesday, May 1, 2024. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

William Penn Ike Papis (17), William Penn Britten Bialis (21) and William Penn Landon Krause (23) reach to block a hit from Reinhardt’s Rodolfo Biegelmayer (4) in the second set during the NAIA men’s volleyball tournament at Alliant Energy PowerHouse in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Wednesday, May 1, 2024. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The energy and passion seen from the benches of St. Xavier and Westcliff was another sign that men’s volleyball may deserve more attention as the sport continues to grow.

“I think the culture of men’s volleyball is trending more toward what we are,” St. Xavier coach Tom Ryan said.

In the first match of day two of the NAIA Men’s Volleyball National Championship at the Alliant Energy PowerHouse, the Saint Xavier Cougars defeated the Westcliff Warriors, 3-1.

“We struggled through adversity and had a few tough starts, but we managed our emotions in the end,” Ryan said.

“It’s always been a fun, goofy group, and that’s part of our character. Sticking to the line between real competition and having fun,” Ryan said.


The St. Xavier men's volleyball team celebrates its win at the NAIA Men's Volleyball National Championship in Cedar Rapids.  (Ben Lambarek/The Journal)

The St. Xavier men’s volleyball team celebrates its win at the NAIA Men’s Volleyball National Championship in Cedar Rapids. (Ben Lambarek/The Journal)

St. Xavier, located in Chicago, has the advantage of being in the second-largest high school boys volleyball market in the country, after California. Many schools struggle to recruit local talent. NAIA men’s volleyball features a large number of international players, with only about 50 players participating in the national tournament this week.

“We’ve always tried to do really well in our backyard and provide Chicago area kids with the opportunity to play, but we also have guys from California, guys from Las Vegas, and international players as well,” Ryan said.

The question remains: Can men’s volleyball grow in less populated states, like Iowa?

As the former Chairman of the NAIA Men’s Volleyball Executive Committee, Ryan is very excited to continue growing the game.

“I just wanted to play a role in growing the sport and moving NAIA men’s volleyball forward,” he said. “We’ve made some great strides over the years.”

Continuing to add more teams and programs will be a critical step moving forward for the NAIA.

“I think the biggest part is just exposure, and we’re still struggling with that,” Ryan said. “Every fan who sees it for the first time has really good reviews about it.”

Rule changes may also help the product. Ryan mentioned how the rules need to be modified regarding service errors because they happen so often in the men’s game.

“We’ve seen baseball make changes over the last couple of years and try to serve a new demographic,” he said. “Volleyball has to be aggressive, too.”

Boys’ volleyball at Iowa State only exists at the club level. This could be a pivotal step in getting more exposure within the state, but the question remains whether the participation numbers are there to back it up.

“I think it always takes those pioneers to provide those opportunities, and I know some people in Iowa are trying to do that,” Ryan said. “There is great talent here and we have recruited many Midwest players over the years.”

The excitement from players and coaches in this sport is there. Men’s volleyball is slowly gaining fame and popularity. Growth is the next step.

Comments: ben.lamparek@thegazette.com





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