Serve, set and spike: Kennett boy’s volleyball program ‘digs’ in02/21/2023 02:13PM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw, Staff Writer
Eighteen-year-old Adrian Shevchuk, a senior at Kennett High School, began playing volleyball when he was nine years old as a member of the 14-and-under East Coast Power club in King of Prussia, and for the next several years, sharpened his game on the traveling club volleyball circuit.
For several of his teammates, volleyball eventually became a 12-month sport that saw them make the easy jump from the club level to playing for their respective high school teams. The problem for Shevchuk was that while Kennett’s girl’s volleyball team had been on the school’s athletic periphery for years, there was no boy’s team.
“When I was playing club volleyball with all of my teammates, they would leave after the seasons were over and play for their high school teams for another three months, and they were all looking forward to that,” Shevchuk said. “I was upset that I was not getting the same experience.”
In 2021, Shevchuk, then a sophomore, approached former Kennett High School Principal Jeremy Hritz and Kennett Athletic Director Sean Harvey with the idea to add an additional notch to the high school’s athletic curriculum.
“For the longest time, the concept of a boy’s volleyball team was out-of-sight, out-of-mind, and only two schools in our league had fully-sanctioned volleyball teams – Unionville and Avon Grove,” Harvey said. “When Adrian came to me, I thought, ‘That’s a great idea,’ and it came at a time when a lot of other athletic directors I knew were discussing the fact that the sport was growing in popularity.”
After a final nod of approval from the Kennett Consolidated School District’s Board of Directors, the team was off and running, with only one major hurdle left for Shevchuk to leap: putting a team together.
“I asked nearly every friend I had, going back to the time I was nine years old, if they would have an interest in playing volleyball,” said Shevchuk. “I was recruiting soccer, basketball and baseball players -- any willing body who would be interested in playing volleyball.”
After assembling a roster, receiving moral and organizational support from his mother, Sophia Bilinsky, and finding his fifth-grade teacher John Boyer to serve as an official chaperone, the Blue Demons squad played three matches in their inaugural season and won one of them.
As the only team member who had experience playing the sport, Shevchuk inherited the twin mantle of captain and coach.
“During the first year in 2021, I was doing all of the coaching and teaching guys who had never played volleyball learn how to play the sport,” he said. “I was the one who would call timeouts and bring everyone into the huddle, trying to give feedback on how they can better win the game.
“They were really willing to absorb all of the information I was giving them.”
Following a winning 2022 season – one that saw the hiring of coaches Mike Ayers and Sharon Gilligan – the Kennett club became a fully-sanctioned athletic sport by the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) and will begin play as a member of the Ches-Mont League this spring, competing against Unionville, Avon Grove and other varsity teams in the area.
As a kick-off to the 2023 season, Kennett High School will host a 22-team, two-day boys’ volleyball tournament on March 31 (junior varsity) and April 1 (varsity), that will see the following schools participate: Avon Grove, Fleetwood, Kennard Dale, Lancaster Mennonite, Lower Merion, JP McCaskey, Manheim Township, North Penn and North Pocono from Pennsylvania, and Salesianum, Cape Henlopen and Sussex Academy from Delaware. The tournament, which will take place at the Kennett Gymnasium, will provide guests with a full snack bar, t-shirt sales, and championship playoff games on both days.
Kennett’s upcoming tournament is on pace with what continues to be the growing popularity of boy’s and men’s volleyball on both the high school and collegiate levels. Since 2020, participation in high school volleyball has risen nearly 30 percent, while its rise as an NCAA sport has seen a nearly 80 percent growth in recent years.
“If I had to point to reasons for the popularity of boys’ and men's volleyball, I would say that it’s the pace of the sport and the sheer athleticism that you can see throughout every match,” Shevchuk said. “In basketball, the best plays are when someone gets an insane dunk or there is an ankle-breaking move, but in volleyball, plays on that level happen 25 times in a match. There will be plays where some players will touch eleven feet, six inches above the ground. Some of the most incredible athletes are playing volleyball and hitting balls at 60 and 70 miles an hour.
“In baseball, a 70-mile-an-hour pitch may not appear to look fast, but in volleyball, you’re playing on a 30-foot by 30-foot court on each side and the game is so quick that those 70-mile-an-hour balls look so much faster.”
The ascension of the sport is also in perfect harmony with Shevchuk’s future aspirations on the court. With a decade of experience – complimented by personal training, a rigorous beach volleyball schedule and attendance at a camp in Boston this past summer – he will be entering Harvard University this fall as an astrophysics major, computer science minor and a member of the school’s volleyball team.
As Shevchuk oversees open gym sessions and eventual tryouts that will soon determine this year’s boy’s Blue Demon volleyball rosters, he hopes that the individual work he has done for the program will help pave the way for other young male athletes who have the same aspirations.
“Years from now, I want to be able to visit Kennett Middle School and hear kids saying that they can’t wait to get to Kennett High School so they can play on the boy’s volleyball team,” he said. “When I was in the seventh grade, a lot of my friends said they looked forward to playing the same sport that had already been offered to them in middle school.
“I can’t wait for people to have that same feeling – to have already been playing volleyball and then have the opportunity to continue playing the sport, wearing the colors of Kennett High School.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].