The first season of boys volleyball at Newark High just ended, but if head coach Sara O’Brian has her way, it won’t be the last.
“I have committed myself to being the coach next year again, so long as the school is willing to have this option available for the boys for the spring, we will definitely exist,” she said.
O’Brian’s first attempt to start a high school boys volleyball team occurred when she was a student at McKean High School. As a varsity player for the Highlanders, she enjoyed the sport so much she tried to start a boys team so that her male classmates could have the same opportunity. However, despite her efforts to make it happen after rousing some interest among her peers, she just didn’t receive the support necessary to get it off the ground.
“There wasn’t a teacher working there at the time who wanted to coach and facilitate the team,” she explained.
O’Brian went on to attend the University of Delaware, where she kept her hand in the game by competing in the Blue Hens’ intramural program. After graduation, she went to work in the corporate word, but soon afterward applied for a job with the Christina School District.
In October, Newark High hired her to teach business, finance and marketing. O’Brian decided to try once again to start a boys volleyball team at the high school level.
“I never thought I would end up being a teacher, but since I had landed the position as one, I thought I would take advantage of the opportunity and seek out those students who may be interested in playing,” said O’Brian, who serves as the club’s head coach on a volunteer basis.
O’Brian started the process by hosting an interest meeting that attracted approximately 30 people. That number dropped to 13 at the second meeting, with only two players having any formal volleyball experience. Of the remaining 11, only some had ever played a team sport of any kind before. Determined to make it happen for those interested, O’Brian moved forward.
“The biggest challenge to getting the sport up and running was figuring out how we were going to pay for the officials and the uniforms,” O’Brian said. “The officials typically cost around $150 per match, so with six matches, it wasn’t going to be cheap.”
Like many high schools, Newark does not provide funding for club sports, so the onus to raise funds falls on the coaches and the players. PoBu, a Main Street restaurant, provided a financial sponsorship to help offset some costs, but it was the players and their families who paid for the remaining balance of the needed funds.
“Personally, [having to pay] didn’t bother me at all,” sophomore Brett Butcofsky said. “It’s a sport that I love to play and I feel like if you truly enjoy something, money shouldn’t stop you from doing it.”
With the required funds secured, Newark started practicing on March 1 along with all the other spring sports teams and on April 2, the club sport of boys volleyball officially got underway when the Yellowjackets hosted A.I. du Pont.
“It felt great, honestly,” Butcofsky recalled of how he felt during pre-match warmups prior to the first game. “At that point, we didn’t really feel like a first-year team, but rather one that was established and ready to go.”
The Yellowjackets were more than ready and couldn’t have asked for a better start, sweeping the Tigers 3-0 to secure the first win in program history.
“The first win was definitely a great experience because I honestly didn’t know how this season would go with it being our first,” said junior Nate Catts, who recorded eight aces, two digs and two assists in the win. “Then, when we got a win our first game, it felt really good. It made it seem like all the hard work we put into creating the team and practicing really paid off. The win made me look forward more to the rest of the season and to getting better as a team.”
However, that first win would be its last of the inaugural season. The Yellowjackets finished the regular season 1-6 and after taking a 2-1 set lead against Dickinson in the opening round of the playoffs, fell to the Rams 3-2.
“The season was very successful in my opinion for what we were dealt with in terms of experience per player for a first-year team,” O’Brian said. “The diversity on the team played a critical role in our success. The environment at practices and games was always positive and vivacious. Inside each player was an eagerness and willingness to learn and grow. Ultimately, it was the combination of personalities that helped this team be strong, survive and conquer. To witness each player improve and learn so much in such little time is absolutely incredible. I am looking forward to next season.”
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