HURON — The players arrive one or two at a time for volleyball practice on a chilly Monday afternoon. The early arrivals have sorted themselves into even sides and are enjoying a “game” a great deal. Nobody is keeping score and there is far more laughter than strategy involved. Everyone on the court is involved.
This includes two boys - Tanner Evers and Bryant Contreras Santiago - who are listed as two of the three team managers, along with Tyrese Theus. However, according to Huron High School coach Shelly Buddenhagen, the contributions of Evers and Theus far surpass doing things like folding towels and getting water for the players.
“They are managers, sure, but I wouldn’t have any qualms about saying that they deserve some recognition as our Most Valuable Player this year,” she says. “What they have done to help us is so valuable to the team.”
What Evers and Theus do is provide the one thing that Buddenhagen cannot supply to prepare her team for its next match, the match after that and so on.
They are tall. You can’t coach “tall.”
Huron is one of only two Class “AA” volleyball teams in the state that don’t list at least one 6-foot player on its roster. Pierre is the other, and Sioux Falls O’Gorman doesn’t list its players heights. “Yeah,” Buddenhagen says when asked about the O’Gorman players. “They have at least a couple of girls who are that tall.”
So, when you are facing a tall group made up of the best of the best in Class “AA” volleyball hitters, how do you adequately prepare your defenders to face kill attempts that are coming from a different height and, very often, at a higher velocity than shorter players can generate.
Buddenhagen looked just a little bit further down her bench.
“I actually started as a manager two years ago,” Evers, a 6-4 jumping jack said during a break in practice. “Cole Korkow and Clay Korkow were helping out and I wanted to do that too.” Evers plays basketball in the winter months and is a swimmer during the summer, but loves to play volleyball too. Enough so that he and Theus have joined what is the the first boys’ club volleyball team in the state.
Kairos Elite, a familiar name in volleyball circles in the state has fielded girls’ teams down to the middle school level for several years. But this fall is will see the first boys’ teams - two age groups are included - begin play. The two HHS ‘managers’ travel to Sioux Falls once a week to practice with the team, made up primarily of young men from the Sioux Falls area.
“I primarily work on blocking now,” Evers said, “although I do some back row attacks as well. It kind of depends on what the next team we play does. For instance, the next team we play has an outside hitter who is left-handed, so Tyrese will have a bigger role today, because he’s left-handed.”
Theus became involved through a friendship with Evers. “Tanner asked me if I would consider being a manager and helping out the volleyball team,” he said. Theus plays tennis in the springs for the Tigers, but has participated in a wide range of sports. He was too late to participate in the pre-practice pickup game, but Evers soared high above the net several times, to pound home intimidating kills.
“Volleyball is just a fun thing to do,” he said. The duo will travel with their Kairos Elite team to Minneapolis in about 10 days, to participate when the first S.D. boys’ club volleyball team takes the court in a tournament.
“This is Tanner’s third year,” Buddenhagen confirms and he hits very hard - to the point that we are using him in lots of blocking scenarios this season.”
She said the biggest benefit for her team is that playing against the much taller, very athletic Evers and Theus, helps prepare them for who they will face in the team’s next match. “More than anything the girls are not surprised,” Buddehagen said. “We scout the other teams and then Tanner and Tyrese fulfill the roles of the best hitters and blockers on the other team. For instance, if a team has a hitter who likes to hit the ball to a certain area, we can have them mimic that play, so the girls better understand where they need to be to better defend. And since they have already faced kill attempts that are coming at them pretty quickly, their adjustment time is shorter.”
Buddenhagen said that without a doubt, Evers and Theus have made this year’s Tiger team better. “They are our every day heroes,” she said. “Imagine someone like Tanner, who comes to practice every day and never gets to play? That’s like red-shirting your entire career!” She said she is happy that the two are getting the chance to compete in the game they have embraced. “I just wish we could have gotten the first boys’ team started here,” she says with a grin. “But I am so proud that we have Huron representation on that first club team. These guys are pioneers and are laying the foundation for the future.”
Being on the club team has helped the guys with their duties on the team as well. “We bring back things we have picked up at Kairos practice and use them here and vice versa,” Evers said.
For Buddenhagen, having the two players who can elevate, hit the ball where they need to and make her Tiger defenders work to be better is vital for the team’s success. “They are members of the team, and they are our most unsung heroes,” she said.