To quote Indian River High School head coach Jim Barnes, “It’s an exciting time for volleyball in Sussex County.”
Not only are Indian River School District high school programs on the up-and-up — with IR senior Kaya Ziskay recently announcing plans to play at Wesley College next fall, and now 10 girls participating in winter club ball — but the middle school programs are as well, with Selbyville Middle School capping their first-ever season undefeated.
Following the trend, and to help build the program from the ground up, SMS assistant coach and local volleyball guru Bill Croal has launched the IRSD Volleyball Skills Academy for young players, which recently finished their last of six spring classes.
“I saw a need when I came back here to Delaware,” Croal said of retiring to the area after living in Maryland. “I was surprised to find out that Indian River didn’t have anything like that.
“Things are changing nationwide, and we want to get on board with that, and give these kids an opportunity to play competitive volleyball.”
Determined to give local players an edge, Croal decided to model a skills program similar to that of the River Soccer Club, approaching IRSD Community Education Coordinator Michele Murphy with the idea.
Murphy had previously helped orchestrate similar programs for field hockey and lacrosse in the area and, always looking to bridge the gap between local schools and the community, was, of course, on board.
“Coach Croal is the passion of this program. His enthusiasm for the game is unparalleled. He just loves volleyball,” said Murphy of Croal and the partnership. “He’s been the driving force behind getting this started in our district. I think it’s his enthusiasm that makes the practices so fun for the kids.”
Also joining the team is Indian River High School assistant coach Jay Clark, who brings similar knowledge and experience, as well as some volunteers from the high school team, including setter Sami Mumford.
After getting things started in March, classes spanned through last Thursday, May 19, and players of all skill levels gathered to learn basic skills including passing, serving, setting and hitting.
“Many of them were too timid to come out for middle school sports because they didn’t really know the techniques,” Murphy explained. “Bill’s really done a great job with not only helping get the kids in condition, but teaching them critical skills.”
“The kids have responded very well,” said Croal. “I see their self-confidence, they’re making new friends — all the usual things when kids begin to play sports. They’ve improved to the point where some of them now can go on and play club ball.”
Georgetown Elementary School Library Media Specialist Kristin McTeer, saw similar results from her daughter Madelynn, whom she signed up for the class.
“Madelynn learned so much and had a great time doing it,” said McTeer. “She really enjoyed herself. She made new friends and the coaches were terrific.”
With the success of the first year, Croal and Murphy said that parents are already asking about the fall session, which is slated to run on Wednesdays from Sept. 21 through Oct. 26.
Registration for the co-ed classes is already open at www.irsd.net and costs $40, which includes a free team T-shirt and ice cream celebration at the end of the season. The sessions will again be held at G.W. Carver School gym (at the former Frankford Elementary School). For more information, contact Michele Murphy at firstname.lastname@example.org.