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Boys volleyball, in its first year, is a hit at MSD

Just like last spring, Maryland School for the Deaf’s Zeke Ortiz is looking to get hits.

But his approach has changed drastically.

Instead of stepping up to the plate, as he did playing for the school’s baseball team last year, Ortiz now goes up at the net.

Ortiz is a member of MSD’s first-year boys volleyball team.

“Last fall, I heard about it. I thought I’d try out, see how volleyball treats me,” said Ortiz, who had never played the sport competitively before. “A good experience. First time. Completely different than other sports, so I’m learning and enjoying it.”

Delivering a few powerful spikes and other well-placed hits, Ortiz had a team-high seven kills in Tuesday’s 25-17, 25-16, 25-19 loss to visiting Covenant Life School.

The Orioles fell to 0-5. But Ortiz, a junior who has become accustomed to success as a standout with MSD’s football and boys basketball teams, maintains the proper perspective. His school hasn’t fielded a boys volleyball since the 2000s, and revived or first-ever programs are rarely immediate successes.

“New team, first time,” he said. “We’re working on it. We’ll get better as time goes on.”

Volleyball replaced baseball as the boys spring team sport at MSD. When asked if the switch was made because there weren’t enough athletes for a baseball team, MSD athletic director Jason Coleman said, “Yes and no. More boys are interested in playing volleyball, and it’s becoming more popular now.”

Male volleyball teams have been forming recently at various levels in the area. Hood College’s men’s team completed its second season earlier this month, and Covenant Life (Montgomery County) is also in its second season overall and first in the Independent Boys Volleyball League, which includes MSD.

The Cougars have made quick strides, improving to 4-2 with Tuesday’s win. Meanwhile, the Orioles have already shown signs of progress, as far as head coach Chaz Joseph is concerned.

Joseph, a 2015 MSD graduate, played volleyball in a Washington D.C. league. He said the sport demands an understanding that differs from sports like football and basketball.

“It’s a system, it’s how you approach the ball. Every ball’s a different situation,” he said. “I noticed they’re learning and they’re improving and they’re a lot better.”

Joseph also coaches for MSD’s girls volleyball program, serving as the JV head coach and as an assistant to varsity head coach Christine DiMarco, who is one of his assistants with the boys team. But unlike the girls team, which has won a slew of national titles over the years, Joseph’s boys team is starting from scratch.

“It’s tough but fun,” he said. “Volleyball’s my passion, I love to teach it, raise the boys to a higher level in a different sport.”

As Joseph pointed out, he has plenty of high-caliber athletes to work with. Aside from Ortiz, the volleyball team is populated with football and basketball players, including standouts in those sports like Jayden Orsi-Pedersen and Mark Gwynn III.

Covenant Life coach Jennifer Reap can relate to Joseph’s situation.

“You’re teaching a sport to a group of varsity level athletes who have never played that particular sport before,” she said. “So, it’s an interesting mindset as a coach, where you are teaching things that you would normally teach at a middle school level, however with strong athletes.

“So there has to be a very steep learning curve,” she said. “I’ve been very proud of our boys for their massive learning curve and how well they’re picking up the sport.”

While the Cougars quickly established themselves as the stronger team on Tuesday, the Orioles stayed competitive, even taking a 12-6 lead in the third set before Covenant Life battled back and pulled out the close win.

“All games are close, and we lost at the end,” Joseph said. “But it’s fine. We’re a first-year program. We’ll be OK.”

Other MSD leaders in Tuesday’s match were: Denali Boren, seven assists, four digs; Ryker Pedersen, five kills; Keene Shank, two aces; and Tobias Lockhart, three digs.