Five Hundred Miles Away. One Big Volleyball Family

I married into the volleyball world. Look at Hugh McCutcheon or Kevin Hambly and you know they played men’s volleyball at a high level, probably both middles. Look at me and I look like a fullback or a linebacker for my high school football team. Let’s just say no one is asking me if I played at BYU in the late 1990s. I got into this volleyball world when I met my wonderful wife when she was a sophomore middle blocker in the Missouri Valley Conference. Years later- and having just moved 500 miles away from our volleyball friends- it’s a great time to reflect on the volleyball world that’s both big and small.

When an event comes up at church we reference our availability based on power leagues and qualifiers. The dates of the major tournaments are ingrained in our minds and we work back from there. Personal days are taken for out of town tournaments and the AVCA Convention and Final Four. When both sets of parents want to visit in the fall, we have to find an open date around high school volleyball, club tryout day, and our Illinois volleyball home matches. It’s a volleyball schedule, a volleyball world, and an all around volleyball life for us.

I’ve been in many situations where I don’t fit. I was a bottom of the totem pole football strength coach in the Big Ten and I didn’t fit. In that world, all that seemed to matter is whether you played at a powerhouse program like Texas or Oklahoma. I didn’t fit in that world. When Kari and I visited Saratoga, we definitely fit in the horse racing world. But one night we went to the Fasig-Tipton yearling sale at Saratoga. We did not fit in. It was a who’s who of horse racing owners and trainers and people with enough money to buy the next Kentucky Derby winner. We were fish out of water.

I coached fastpitch softball for many years but one of my coaching experiences had me surrounded by guys who played men’s fastpitch at a very high level. I was more of a baseball guy who fell in love with softball and tried to learn as much as possible. Coaching with one of the best men’s fastpitch players in the world made me feel like I didn’t fit. I spent time on a horse farm that trained and showed saddlebred horses. I know my horse racing. I can tell you all you need to know for your visit to Canterbury Park or Saratoga, but I didn’t fit in the world of training and caring for show horses.

Volleyball fits. After years of Kari coaching at Northern Lights, I know the volleyball world. I know where to park for the Northern Lights Qualifier so you don’t have to pay. I know the best places to eat within walking distance of the Kansas City Convention Center. I know Rhamat Alhassan when I see her sitting in our section at the Final Four. I know the TAV coach who coached against Kari in 14 Open. I know Cathy George when she’s standing next to me at a qualifier watching one of Kari’s players. I know the volleyball world. From my days of watching Kari play in the Missouri Valley Conference to 13 years of seeing my wife coach for one of the top five club programs in the nation, I have gotten quite familiar with the volleyball scene.

And right now, after a 500 mile move, we are missing our volleyball family. It was the volleyball world that connected us with Champaign, Illinois in the first place. Kevin Hambly recruited some Lights players back when Kari was coaching with Chad Becker on a 15–1s team that won a national championship. Years later, Kevin was now a head coach and Kari was still blessed with players talented enough to be recruited by Kevin and every other major program. Through talks with Kevin, we realized there’s a need in Champaign for better volleyball for youth. High school and club volleyball here needs improvement. We moved here thinking maybe we could do our part to help grow the game in Central Illinois.

It was our volleyball family that connected us with Illini Elite. Though they are about 40 minutes from our house, it was one of our favorite people at Northern Lights-Andy Guggisberg- who made sure to connect us with Illini Elite and make sure they knew about Kari now being in their area. Our volleyball family will be in Champaign when the Spartans, the Boilermakers, and the Gophers travel to play the University of Illinois this fall.

Kari is coaching high school volleyball here in Champaign. It was a way to get to know the volleyball scene here and it’s been a good experience, having a setter committed to Auburn certainly helps. It’s been interesting to see the way the players and parents respond to Kari. The Illini Elite players and parents definitely seem to be hanging on to every word. Northern Lights commands respect in the volleyball world. Our friends at church or in small group may not understand Northern Lights or what it’s like to compete in Orlando at AAUs, but the Illini Elite families know. That’s the Northern Lights family connecting with the Illini Elite family in one big- yet small- volleyball world.

Yes, we miss Minnesota. Yes, we miss South Suburban Volleyball, and all our volleyball friends. We miss Hy-Vee, Cole’s Salon, and Chianti Grill. We miss Pastor Wes and Berean Baptist Church. Our plans to pioneer something and start something in this area won’t happen this year. It may never happen. But we know that God’s plans rarely mirror ours. What was really neat along the journey so far was how the volleyball world was so helpful every step of the way.

We reached out to Ryan at Vital and Scott Jackson at Minnesota Select. They went above and beyond in giving us great insight for how to start something in Champaign. Tim Keating spent a good deal of time sharing his wisdom and experience. Andy at Illini Elite was great in giving us advice and insight into the volleyball scene in Central Illinois. And of course, Curt and Adam at Northern Lights were gracious and encouraging and made sure to tell Kari she was always welcome back at Lights. It didn’t matter if it was a JVA club or a USAV club, whether we were heading to Champaign or Rosemount, everyone we approached went out of their way to provide encouragement. It truly is one big- yet small- volleyball world.

“The most important thing in your life is not what you do; it’s who you become. That’s what you will take into eternity.” -Dallas Willard

Kari and I have been around long enough to see sisters go through Lights. We’ve been around long enough to see former players go on to college and then coach club or maybe even college. Former players have gone to be Division I All-Americans, get married, buy a house, and have a baby. And now over the next four years we have former players we need to watch play at Kansas State, West Virginia, Missouri State, Minnesota, etc.

“Coaching isn’t social work, but it’s more than just a game- it’s a heartfelt vocation, in which you are powerfully bonded to students who need you. It’s a job that engages all your mind and muscle and spirit, a job in which you grab kids by the arm and pull them out of their respective emotional fires, whatever that is, and show them what real self-worth looks like.” -Pat Summitt

Maybe we had to move away to learn- as Louie Giglio said- that “God’s plans rarely mirror ours.” Maybe we had to leave for a year to learn that “Sometimes God brings our dreams to life; sometimes he doesn’t. But how we respond to his work becomes an important intersection for change in our lives.” It’s been three months in our totally new location, and we are trying to learn contentment. We love watching Illinois volleyball and attending Kevin Hambly’s pre-match chalk talks. We are thankful for an opportunity for Kari to coach at St. Thomas More. We are thankful that we both work in the same building. We want to learn contentment.

We’re also discovering that, “The most important thing in your life is not what you do; it’s who you become. That’s what you will take into eternity.” While some of our plans appear to lie in ruins, we have a job that we need to be faithful to. Maybe God doesn’t want us to do anything big or “important” in Central Illinois. Maybe he just wants to pull us aside this year for a little extra one-on-one time.

We hope those back in Minnesota and those in our little volleyball world are in some way better because of our relationship with them. It’s not easy to leave 13 years of Northern Lights and 13 years of Minnesota friends. And in the mean time, we reflect back on a volleyball world that is both big and small. We reflect back on parents and coaches and former players who blessed us simply because our paths crossed for a brief time in the volleyball world. The trophies and the medals soon get packed away or covered with dust. But we will never forget the faces of the people we have met along the way.

“I won 1,098 games, and eight national championships, and coached in four different decades. But what I see are not the numbers. I see their faces. People ask what I’m proudest of in my career. The answer is easy: I’m proudest of them.” -Pat Summitt

Thanks for reading- I’m Scott Raymond. I’m a writer, volleyball husband, and avid reader of non-fiction. I’m a fan of horse racing, Alabama football, and SEC and Big Ten Volleyball. I am a husband to Kari and we called the Twin Cities home for nearly all of our married lives.

You can read some of my other work on Medium

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… Or contact me at onehorsestable at gmail dot com

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