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Men's volleyball game seeking a firmer Kansas footing

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, July 9, 2010, at 12:06 a.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011, at 12:12 p.m.

Kansans get a look at the world's best male volleyball players this weekend at Koch Arena.

Height. Power. Agility. The FIVB World League volleyball players put it all on display.

Then the sport essentially goes dark around the state. While girls and women's volleyball thrives, their male counterparts are rare.

"It's slim and none in comparison to the girls," said Hank Van Arsdale, commissioner of Heart of America Volleyball. His organization covers Western Missouri and Kansas for USA Volleyball. Around 10,000 girls (ages 10-18) are registered for junior programs. He estimates around 60 boys play in Kansas City and Wichita.

Kansas high schools don't offer volleyball for boys. There is one club team in Wichita and four in Kansas City. The closest college program is at Kansas City's Park (Mo.) University, an NAIA school. Graceland University in Iowa offers the sport, as do four St. Louis schools.

"You can see our battle," Van Arsdale said. "It doesn't seem to be growing at all."

The sport took a hit in Wichita when Newman University dropped men's volleyball in 2007 for budget reasons. Newman was in the process of joining the NCAA Division II Heartland Conference, which did not sponsor the sport. Nearby opponents were difficult to find.

The program, which finished as the NAIA runner-up in 2003, is remember fondly by volleyball fans. Players and coaches return to campus for an alumni game each fall.

"I get e-mails all the time (from alums), asking what are we doing with men's volleyball, and are we going to bring it back," Newman athletic director Vic Trilli said.

Trilli would consider adding the sport under the right circumstances. Newman played its first season in 2002 and it enjoyed immediate success under coach Dan Friend.

"At some point, if we looked at expanding athletically that would be one we would look at," Trilli said. "I know I would be interested."

Wichita State assistant coach R.J. Abella is the rarity — he played volleyball as a youngster, played in college and makes his living in the sport. Abella, from Kansas City, learned the sport in Catholic grade school leagues and played club in Kansas City.

"I needed a sport to get by after basketball and before football," he said.

He came to Newman in 2004 to play. He will work the World League matches as a match statistician.

"I think it would be something great if they brought back that program (at Newman)," Abella said. "The collegiate scene needs to grow more and give these guys more opportunities."

***

Who: Russia vs. United States

When: 7 p.m. Friday and 6 p.m. Saturday

Where: Koch Arena

What: FIVB World League Pool C games

Records: Russia 9-1, U.S. 7-3

Details: Russia and the U.S. are the top two teams in FIVB World League Pool C. These matches are the final round of pool play. The winners of each of the four pools advance to the final round July 21-25 in Cordoba, Argentina, as does the second-place team with the best record.

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