Boys Volleyball Preview: Specialization impacts area teams
In this photo from March 20, 2012, Mundelein's Blake Burton hits the ball against Kendall Brown of Waukegan. | Joe Cyganowski~for Sun Times Media
Look out for...Jonah May (Sr.), Stevenson
The clever 6-foot-3 setter is one of the state’s top returning players and is coming off an eye-popping season with 733 assists. After he sets up his Patriots this year, May will take his precision passing to Princeton.
Michael Savio (Jr.), Lake Zurich
At 5-foot-9, Savio is one of the smallest — and smartest — outside hitters in the area. The former libero has a keen eye and an uncanny ability to predict his opponents’ movements.
Blake Burton (Sr.), Mundelein
Burton is a killer on the court. An athletic 6-foot-5, the middle hitter soars high above the net and pounds the ball at high-impact speeds. He’s coming off a year with 134 kills and 20 aces.
Max Spiglanin (Jr.) Vernon Hills
The five-time defending NSC champions lost two all-state performers last season, but Spiglanin is a gifted player with a diverse skills set. The middle hitter registered 129 kills last year and led a 32-5 team with 163 digs.
Updated: March 12, 2013 8:54PM
Nobody knows the risks more than Mundelein senior setter and student physical trainer Victor Magana.
He’s studied the injuries and seen them first hand. He understands how delicate knees are, and how important they are to a volleyball player’s success. You can’t leap skyward for a kill without healthy knees. You can’t bound into the stratosphere for a block or dive across the court for a dig.
So as volleyball becomes a more specialized sport and the players stress their knees, shoulders and backs more frequently, Magana and many others have become more careful.
“I feel like I need to take care of my teammates,” Magana said. “I try to help them out as much as I can — telling them what muscles to stretch and when to ice after practice. The biggest prevention method, by far, is to stretch and warm-up properly.”
Jumping explosively and wailing on a leather ball are chaotic movements that the human body isn’t designed to handle frequently. Volleyball players, naturally, complete those movements thousands of times.
With high school games in the spring and club volleyball in the fall, many players will pound on their poor joints for much of the year. That could be leading to an increase in chronic knee, shoulder and back pain throughout the sport.
“With the increase of club volleyball, a higher percentage of athletes are beginning to play offseason,” Deerfield coach Eugene Chung said. “Which means the talent level has gone up quite a bit and the competitiveness of the sport has gone up. Which means in order to make the teams, everybody is specializing a lot more.
“So everyone is quitting their other sports, and that can also lead to more injuries because they’re not running or doing other movements anymore. They’re just jumping the same every time.”
Libertyville coach Casey Aubin said that his team is an equal mix of volleyball-only players and multi-sport athletes, and that it would be a “fair assessment” to say the specialized players are suffering from more joint pain than the ones who engage more diverse physical activity.
“Generally speaking, the kids who only play volleyball only have a little more of the chronic issues,” Aubin said. “But even as I’m saying that, we’re still talking about a small percentage. We’re looking at, out of maybe 30 kids, no more than 10 percent.”
While the injury risk is not overwhelming, it could become a lingering problem in the sport and seems to be increasing as more athletes become volleyball-only specialists.
“I would say the risk is always going to be there and players, like myself, need to be careful,” Magana said. “For me, it’s back pain. I started playing club a year ago, and there’s definitely more wear on my body now. People just have to be smart and do the right things.”