During just about any EPHS women’s volleyball home game, a group of male college students stand up and cheer on the girls as they play their games.
For some it can be a fun chance to see live sports. But for others, it was an inspiration to come out on the floor themselves.
Over the past three years, men’s volleyball in Eden Prairie and Minnesota has continued to grow. This led to the Eagles forming a squad and, in 2021, taking second place in the third boys state volleyball tournament.
Make it happen
While women’s volleyball has been a mainstay of the Minnesota high school athletic scene since the 1970s, men’s volleyball has never made a splash in this state. This is not the case in other states like Illinois and California, where the sport is at the same level as the female version.
In 2018, men’s volleyball began its surge in Minnesota. A league, not yet sanctioned by the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL), has started. This first season did not include an Eden Prairie team.
A year later, the Eagles were soon part of the boys’ volleyball movement in that state. They were starting a team.
At the same time, Steph Chapek had been hired by the EP volleyball association to start a beach volleyball program. The PE resident expressed her desire to create a boys’ team. She eventually took on the role of the team’s inaugural head coach.
“We had a lot of senior superfans who loved volleyball and wanted to try it,” Chapek said. “They just came out without having played before and fell in love with the sport.”
While also leading the beach volleyball effort at Eden Prairie, Chapek also had previous experience coaching the girls at college in Edina. Although the male and female versions of the sport have the same rules, Chapek encountered many differences.
“The boys were so excited to play,” Chapek said. “They did a lot of non-traditional volleyball moves. It was quite fun going out and trying to teach them as much as possible as fast as possible.
The first season
In his first season as a program, Eden Prairie finished 3-7 and sat in the middle of the Western Conference. The Eagles failed to qualify for the second state men’s volleyball tournament in history.
“Our guys were a year behind everyone,” Chapek said. “They had to catch up as quickly as possible.”
The lost season
In the fall and winter of the 2019-2020 school year, participation and excitement for the second season of EP men’s volleyball intensified. The team held gyms open throughout the fall and winter as preparations began.
Then, however, things changed. The pandemic has shut down high school sports throughout Minnesota. This included the boys’ volleyball.
“The team were super excited to play this second season,” said Chapek. “They were really disappointed to lose a whole season last year. It was really disappointing for them.
Back on the court
After news broke that the 2020 season was a no-go, players continued to prepare. This time it was for the 2021 season.
The team resumed hosting open gyms last fall, in line with COVID-19 guidelines. While some high school sports have seen their numbers drop due to the pandemic, the PE boys’ volleyball program has not. During the 2021 season, there were 34 players spread across four teams.
“We got a ton of new kids from different groups of friends,” Chapek said. “Our numbers are up, which is a bit surprising. “
Some players have improved through additional training and also through club volleyball. The non-high school volleyball season is a mainstay on the girls ‘side in Minnesota, but still comes alive on the boys’ side. MN Select Volleyball, a state-based club program, has launched boys’ teams. Chapek said five or six of his players have taken to club volleyball to hone their skills during the offseason.
Besides club volleyball, many players train on the beach courts at Riley Lake. Beyond high school, there is a group of middle schoolers who practice almost every day during the season at Starring Lake. Everything is managed by the players themselves.
To run a race
Minnesota’s 2021 men’s volleyball season began amid COVID-19. This meant that Eden Prairie was in her second season of competing in men’s volleyball.
“We were ready to have a good team,” Chapek said. “We had more time in the gym with the gyms open.”
In their second full season as a team, the Eagles wasted no time getting started as they earned nine straight conference wins.
Unfortunately for EP, the team found themselves struggling at the end of the regular season with back-to-back losses to Edina and Shakopee. Still, the Eagles finished tied for the Southwestern Conference summit with the Sabers as EP posted a 9-2 record.
Eden Prairie’s record was good enough for the Eagles to make their first appearance in the state men’s volleyball tournament. EP won one of the top seeds of the tournament, which took place June 16-17 at Shakopee High School.
Facing Centennial in their debut in the state tournament, the Eagles thwarted the Cougars in straight sets. Hours later, EP moved on to the state semifinal game again with a Roseville sweep.
With just one game separating the Eagles from a berth in the state title game, they faced Blaine. Once again, EP failed to lose a single set and stepped forward to face Andover. The Huskies, like the Eagles, had yet to lose a set in the state tournament.
The two teams met in Shakopee as two of the best teams in the state. EP got off to a good start with a 27-25 victory in the first set. From there, the Eagles failed to win a set as Andover claimed the state crown.
Looking to the long term
Although the EP did not win its first state championship, the future looks bright not only for the Eagles, but for Minnesota men’s volleyball as a whole, with the goal of becoming a school sport. sanctioned in Minnesota continues.
Growth among sports in PE has fallen to the youth level. There is a group of middle-aged boys who train at Starring Lake every day in the spring and train on their own, according to Chapek.
Much of the future of the sport rests with the MSHSL making men’s volleyball a sanctioned sport. It hasn’t happened yet. The league’s most recent vote came in May when it decided not to sanction the sport.
“There were a lot of reasons that didn’t happen,” Chapek said. “It was extremely disappointing. I think it will pass eventually. The dynamic is gaining momentum. “
The momentum can be seen by the growing number of boys getting involved starting at the middle school level. There is also support from the EP Volleyball Association.
“I think it’s going to continue to grow,” Chapek said. “I think it’s going to continue to expand here. The association is very united and wants this to continue and grow.
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