Down to his last chance, Ty White finds a home on Bemidji's volleyball court

May 16—Ty White is the easiest Bemidji High School boys volleyball player to spot on the court. That's because he plays libero.

The senior loves getting his digs. He dug up a big one for the Lumberjacks in the fourth set of their 3-1 win over Grand Rapids on Wednesday night at the BHS gymnasium.

"I like (digging out) those good hits from other people," White said. "I like making them feel bad. To me, digs feel better than anything else in the game. The last one I got up, I saw that kid's face sink. That feels amazing."

While the spectators see him as the Jacks' player wearing a different jersey from the rest of his team, White's teammates see him as a leader, despite having about as much experience as the rest of them.

White played football and wrestled for Bemidji. Before his senior year started, he thought the fall and winter seasons would be his last. That was until the Lumberjacks adopted boys volleyball in its emerging sport phase through the Minnesota State High School League.

Before White jumped at the opportunity to play the new spring sport, he got a taste of playing with the Grand Rapids club team last year — Bemidji's opponent on Wednesday. Reed Johnson, his BHS teammate, played for the Thunderhawks before Bemidji started its program.

"Reed got me into it," White said. "He was trying to find a team, and he found them. I went and practiced with them a little bit, but it just didn't work out to join the team."

Like 18 of his other teammates, White played in his first organized game on for Bemidji on April 18 against Proctor/Hermantown.

"It was a lot," White said. "I played competitive sports before, so I didn't have any nerves about competing for the first time. But the game's vibe, we didn't know what that was like until we played. We tried (to replicate it in practice), but you can't."

In the week leading up to the inaugural match, co-head coaches Matt Johnson and Erika Bailey-Johnson revealed to White that he was named one of the Lumberjacks' captains. White went from finally getting a chance to play volleyball to being one of Bemidji's leaders overnight.

"I didn't think it was going to happen, so it kind of took my by surprise," White said. "It felt amazing to get that from my teammates. They trust me with that role. That means a lot to me."

White's captain nomination didn't catch anybody off guard but him.

"I think he was surprised he was named captain, but I wasn't," Bailey-Johnson said. "He's dedicated. When you want a captain, you want someone who's going to be there early and stay late. You want somebody that gives you everything and supports your teammates. Who doesn't want that? Ty has all of that."

BHS kept rolling on Wednesday night, picking up a 25-11 win in the first set. After dropping the second 25-23, the Jacks rebounded to win the final two 27-25 and 25-23, picking up their third consecutive victory.

Bemidji sits in first place in the Northern MN Conference. While the Lumberjacks' success may surprise some in their inaugural season, White maintained high expectations for BHS against its conference counterparts.

"I expected us to be pretty good," he said. "The junior and senior class we have, even without the experience, we're still really athletic. We just have athletes all over the floor. I think more people will play in the years to come, too. From the beginning, we knew we'd be competitive with the teams around here because of how athletic and big we are."

However, White didn't expect to be in first place against the three other teams — Proctor/Hermantown, Grand Rapids and Cloquet — through the midway point of the regular season.

"I didn't think we'd get this good this fast," White said. "I think we just need to keep playing. Keep playing in practice and games, because the longer we keep playing, the better this team will get."

White attributed Bemidji's success to a team-first mentality. While more experienced players like Johnson rack up important kills, the Lumberjacks' collective effort to improve holistically has been the focus as they try to prove why the program should exist beyond 2024.

"This is my favorite sport," White said. "The fact that I can play to end my senior year, it's amazing to me. To be honest, I don't really know why it's my favorite. The team feels closer than any team I've been on."

The Jacks will present a proposal to the school board in the coming months for why the program should stick beyond a club or emerging sport phase. Players like White diving into volleyball head first is why Bailey-Johnson urges for school board approval.

"It's one reason why I feel like we need to make this (sport) an option for kids to play at this school," Bailey-Johnson said. "It's such a good option in our crazy spring weather. I was a multi-sport athlete. I did volleyball, basketball, track and fastpitch, and I think having as many options as we can for the kids is a good thing because they might find something they love, just like Ty did."