No cuts, all glory


Yashashree Pisolkar

Varsity boys volleyball maintains its competitive edge despite informal tryout process

A quick look at the varsity boys volleyball team’s record reveals just how competitive the team is. They have qualified for CCS for the past four seasons and went undefeated 20 – 0 last season. Surely you would expect a highly selective process during tryouts – one with multiple cuts in order to build such a strong team.

But that’s not the case. There are no formal tryouts in boys volleyball.

Head coach Paul Chiu takes a different approach compared to other varsity sports teams when it comes to orchestrating tryouts. Instead of a two-week long evaluation process during the scheduled tryout time for spring sports, he hosts open gyms and skill sessions on a regular basis year round, encouraging prospective players to come in voluntarily to practice. While athletes benefit from open court practices, Chiu observes the players from afar, evaluating their skills not for the purpose of making cuts, but in order to gauge the talent and commitment within his pool of athletes. Prolonged exposure to the athletes allows Chiu to have a solid idea of the team’s strengths and areas for improvement. Consequently, the tryouts are a mere formality, and the team-building process carries more weight heading into competition season.

Chiu’s evaluation of prospective varsity athletes actually begins as early as eighth grade. Since he also coaches boys volleyball at Kennedy Middle School, Chiu gets to see the group of students that will later attend MVHS their freshman year. In fact, Chiu had worked with six of the eight juniors on this year’s team before they even came to MVHS through open gyms he held over the summer before their freshman year. Although Chiu detects a spark in these young athletes, sometimes he prefers to wait patiently until the athlete takes the initiative to approach the team.

Senior captain Ryan Manley is one such athlete who has been playing volleyball since his middle school years. Also an active member of club volleyball since the eighth grade, Manley approached Chiu during his freshman year.

“I went and found the team,” Manley said. “After a great season at Kennedy [Middle School], I knew that I was definitely going to tryout for the team.”

As a seasoned athlete, Manley understands many of the behind-the-court dynamics that come into play when building a highly-ranked CCS team. Currently pre-ranked fifth in CCS, the boys volleyball team boasts exceptionally skilled athletes –– some of whom make the selection decision for varsity athletes hard on Chiu.

The varsity level is vaguely defined. Chiu provides his juniors and seniors a choice: they can be on the varsity team but may not get a whole lot of play time, or they can choose to opt out of the team entirely. Chiu expects that players who continue on varsity will put their best foot forward and try to develop their leadership potential along with their technique.

“I usually know my pool of players, I just have to make a decision about which sophomores I’m going to bring up [from JV],” Chiu said.

The decision of finalizing the varsity roster boils down to the sophomores that exhibit talent and mastery. While most juniors and seniors have clarity about their status on the team before the so-called “tryouts” even take place, the sophomores on JV have to prove that they are dedicated and ready to take on the challenge of playing with the seasoned varsity athletes through their performance on the court during practices and games.

“[Coach Chiu] has a wealth of knowledge, so [passing] it on to the younger players earlier on before they even come onto varsity is really important,” Manley said.

Junior Kevin Zhang got pulled up to varsity part way through the season during his sophomore year. In his very first game on varsity, he had to face Mountain View High School, a formidable team with more than a few strong players. To raise the stakes even higher, Monta Vista was down two starting players. Daunting as it seemed, Zhang stepped up to play as a starter and blocked shot after shot. With every shot he convinced not only himself but also Chiu that he could play at the varsity level.

“It was pretty exciting,” Zhang said. “The challenge was tougher, so I knew I had to step it up. There was a learning curve, and I got over it.”

Pressure is still on
Even though there essentially aren’t any tryouts for volleyball, competition between players is still present. Players compete constantly for playing time. At any given time, there are only six players on the court, and there are 14 players on the team. The system is simple: more skilled players get more playing time, less skilled players get less playing time. After all, the team has a record to break and a reputation to live up to.

“There’s a lot of pressure,” assistant coach and Class of 2012 alumnus Brandon Tiongson said. “The team’s been really good for the past four years. During practices we practice really hard, and if we don’t, coach yells.”

Even though there is no clear-cut tryout process, Chiu expects that all the athletes will set and achieve high goals. According to Manley, although boys volleyball may be perceived as a less physical sport compared to football, basketball or wrestling, the team knows that the game is intense and volleyball is not a sport to join just for fun. Granted, fun is a byproduct of performing well throughout the season. Despite the rigor of the team, drills and practice games do not go long without hoots and hollers from team members at the end of a play. No matter how the play ends, the reaction from the team is the same: high fives all around. Despite Chiu’s untraditional approach to tryouts, he has managed to build an effective team that looks forward to yet another successful season.

“We believe that we are one of the top four teams in CCS,” Chiu said. “At that point it’s very competitive. Obviously we have to play well to win CCS and ultimately win NorCal.”


Corrections (March 14 at 7:56 p.m.): For varsity swimming tryouts prospective athletes are required to swim 10X100 at 3 minutes. Strong athletes are able to complete the set in about a minute with two minutes of rest time. Track and Field athletes do not have a clear-cut deadline for applying, but are expected to express interest in a timely fashion. According to Head Coach Kirk Flatow, cuts are made for disciplinary purposes more so than skill level.