The sport of boys' volleyball has been growing throughout the state of Minnesota. Now, the city of Woodbury will be welcoming the sport this spring.
East Ridge will have a club team this season, and the hope for players and coaches is to have this sport sanctioned in the next year or two with the Minnesota State High School League.
"I've played this sport all my life," said head coach Wally Bomgren. "It's great coaching these players in a sport that I've grown up with all my life."
Bomgren has been the head coach for the New Life Academy girls' volleyball team. He's loved his job every season with the girls, but when he was asked about coaching the boys' team, he couldn't pass up the offer.
Boys' volleyball has continued to grow the last couple of years. Last year, 23 teams played in the league and that number has increased to 49 teams this season. The 49 teams has also increased the number of players to over 1,000.
There was a strong interest in the Woodbury area, and that's why the East Ridge team was formed. Many of these players have played beach or recreational volleyball around the community, so when the opportunity came to form a team they came running to join.
Junior Ethan Pittman and sophomore Matthew Lorence are two players on East Ridge's team and both have played beach volleyball for many years. Once they heard about the new boys volleyball team, they were excited to sign up.
"It's been fun being a part of this team and continuing to play volleyball," Pittman said. "There's a difference between the sand and floor, but we've been learning a lot and we're excited for our first match."
The team currently has about 10-12 players and will be playing twice every week. Games are scheduled on Mondays and usually either Wednesday and Thursday each week.
The first handful of games will be against non-conference teams to get familiar with a match and the pace of play. It'll give the players a chance to get familiar with each other in a competitive atmosphere.
Bomgren said he's not worried about team chemistry because every player works well together on the team. One night, everyone wanted to stay an extra 45 minutes to hit the ball around, so Bomgren stayed and watched as the boys continued to play.
"I've had a great time meeting new people on this team," Lorence said. "We've been working really well as a team and hopefully it shows in the upcoming matches this season."
Bomgren also noted the help from the East Ridge girls' volleyball team as different players have been to practices and teach the basics of volleyball to these players. They've been to every practice and either give advice or provide tutorials on different aspects of the sport like setting, hitting and digging.
"I appreciate all of the East Ridge girls' volleyball players and their help throughout the practices this season," Bomgren said. "They've been here every practice and providing advice along the way that's helping these players grow. Thank you to them and their program."
The long-term goal, along with having fun this season, is to have this sport sanctioned by the MSHSL. Bomgren said that it took lacrosse seven years to be sanctioned as a sport, but also mentioned that the league has told coaches that they don't see the process taking as long to sanction this sport for the future.
It'll continue to take steady growth and interest from different parts of the state, but doubling the amount of teams and participants makes players and coaches confident about a quick approval from the league.
"It would be great to have this sport became a Minnesota State High School League sport because I think many people enjoy and are interested in this sport," Lorence said. "I'm just glad the club team was formed at East Ridge, so all of us could join and start a team."
The first match of the season for the Raptors will be against Como Park on Thursday, April 11, at 6:30 p.m. at East Ridge High School.
The Raptors hope to finish the season in line to play at the first ever boys' state volleyball tournament in Shakopee on May 18 and 19. Bomgren believes the boys will be ready for the season, and he knows their focus is on winning matches.
"It'll be great to reach the state tournament, but I think we're looking forward to playing each match this season," Pittman said. "I hope this sport continues to grow in the future and boys' volleyball can stay in Minnesota for a long time."