With the end of the winter sports season at Malden High School, next comes the start of the spring sports season. With tryouts looming ahead, to get the boys volleyball team ready for the season, the coaches and captains held optional practices that were open to all who were interested in playing and trying out for the team this year.
Practices were originally held on Saturday mornings from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm starting February 12th, but with the end of both the Boys and Girls Basketball seasons later that month, two more practice days were added each week, Tuesdays and Thursdays, starting around 3:45 pm and ending at 5:00 pm.
The practices covered core aspects of volleyball that players would finetune to be able to compete for a spot on either JV or varsity. The beginning of these practices would include playing 3v3, and sometimes 4v4, making sure that those playing in the back row can receive and get the ball to the setter. After a while, players would split off to make teams of six to play in games that resembled real game action.
One half of the gym was for varsity players, which was aided by Coach Daniel Jurkowski, and the other half was managed by the new JV coach, Joshua Sellers.
Coach Jurkowski talked about the goals for the volleyball team this upcoming season, saying that “the goal for the team this year is to just build upon what we accomplished last year. Last year we qualified for States and we won our first ever States game in the first round. So the goal would be to at least match what we did last year and hopefully make it past the second round.”
Jurkowski has no concerns about the team’s two senior captains, Kingson Chen and Yoji Yonetani, over their ability to lead the team this year. “They are very experienced, they know what's expected. They are very excited about this being their last season and they have high expectations, so I have no concerns whatsoever about them being able to lead the team and motivate our players for what we're trying to accomplish.”
The impact that the practices hold is huge. “Not only for the returning varsity kids because they know what the deal is, but I think it was very beneficial for the younger kids, especially some of the kids who might not have known if they want to try out for real or not,” said Jurkowski.
Coach Jurkowski mentioned that he thinks the senior class that the program has built up over the years will step up in a large way this year. “We have to replace both of our setters from last year. Kingson will be one of them, but we generally play with two. I'm sure he's capable of doing it, but he's never actually played setter in a varsity game before. Between Aiden Tham and Timmy Du, we have to find one more setter. That is going to be very important between the two of them to see which one can do it, but I think they will be able to set up for the challenge.”
Senior Captain Kingson Chen played a lot of club volleyball during his offseason and hopes to “bring what I learned from outside to the volleyball program so that I can help everyone else improve as a player because we have a lot of new people this year.” He gave an example of this, “our setter, [Aiden Tham], is in his second year, but his first year of varsity, so we want to teach guys like him everything so they can improve as a player themselves.”
Chen thinks that the practices helped “see what players we have for next year and the future years on. These practices helped us start preparing before the season in case no one knew how to play volleyball so not every kid who walks into tryouts was confused on what they are doing.”
Sophomore James Jose talked about his personal experience playing on JV last year during COVID. “It was a lot of fun playing last year with everyone, I got to meet new people and go through the feelings of winning and losing games, but throughout every game or practice it made us all improve and made the year more fun. Seeing the people I played with last year move on to varsity due to age differences, I have to work with new people and also teach those who haven't played or need help, and I find I like to gain more experience by playing with more people.”
Jose wants the team to win this season. He explained that regardless of the losses the team might face, they will “push us harder to win. Not everyone is able to learn as quickly or be perfect, but I want everyone to have fun, and improve as a whole to get ready for the years to come.” He thought the practices “have immensely helped everyone. It gave people new to the sport time to learn and progress more in how to play and returning players a chance to get back into playing.”
Jose looks forward to seeing the people he thinks will be able to improve and take him on by surprise. “I think my teammate Brian Vences has improved the most, he is a hard hustler, and great at what he does. I think that our new coming freshmen like Kenton Nguyen, Edward Mei, Kevin Lin or Gordon Zeng, I’ve seen a lot of potential in these four during practice.”
Jose mentioned the differences between this season and last year along with how he thinks he can improve from the changes,“last year we only went against four teams twice, making it eight games total. This year, there's a lot of competition now that COVID has quieted down and these new teams will teach me new things I can improve on. Through the offseason my physical condition is now better which will allow me to compete at a higher level compared to last season.”
“They are a great group of kids, and they encourage their friends to come play. We try to have fun as much as possible and we expect to win since we hold ourselves to high standards. At the same time, we know that having fun is important too, so we try to build a culture around being inclusive to everybody,” concluded Jurkowski.