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Franklin takes aim on state title in club volleyball

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Dan Rice could point to all sorts of reasons the program he plays for is a two-match winning streak from its first state championship.

Why go to the trouble when the numbers speak volumes?

After dropping the opening two sets to second-ranked Cathedral at the Lafayette Jeff boys volleyball semistate last Saturday, the Grizzly Cubs rallied to close out the Irish 25-23, 25-23, 16-14.

“The team as a whole just wants to win,” said Rice, Franklin’s 6-foot-3 senior outside hitter, adding, “and that’s what separates us from other teams.”

The victory qualified the Cubs for Saturday’s state finals at Southport High School. Franklin squares off against Chesterton at 11 a.m. for the right to play the Roncalli-Carmel winner in the 3 p.m. finale.

A state title in a sport not sanctioned by the IHSAA could conjure up additional interest. Yet with only 26 high school teams throughout the state, Indiana likely remains a deep serve away from making boys volleyball a sanctioned sport.

“Boys volleyball should be an IHSAA sanctioned sport. I think in an effort to maintain Title IX, it has been overlooked,” said Kat Sarles, Franklin’s coach ever since the program made its debut at the school in the spring of 2003.

“There is some old-school thinking about volleyball being a girls sport, but just being a club for boys even though there are scholarships to college available and professional ranks around the world in addition to the Olympics. I think there is some concern about the number of spring boys sports taking athletes from track and baseball, and so schools are hesitant to open up new volleyball teams.”

“I would love to see it sanctioned. We practice every day, and some of the players go to camps or play club. But I don’t know if we’re going to go that direction because it hasn’t taken off huge,” said Dana Daprile, the Center Grove girls volleyball coach who just completed her first season coaching the school’s boys squad.

“For me, I knew the group of guys who were coming back this season, and they’re really good kids. Boys volleyball is more laid back. Not that they don’t take it serious. They try to make it fun.”

Center Grove book-ended state championships in 2006 and 2009 around runner-up finishes in 2007 and 2008. The Trojans last played in a state finals in 2011, losing to eventual champ Carmel in the semis 25-11, 25-15, 25-13.

That finals also took place at Southport, only this time it’s Franklin proudly representing Johnson County.

Leading the way is Rice, who with 258 kills, 255 digs and 30 blocks is the Grizzly Cubs’ go-to performer and one of only two seniors starting. The other is libero Jacob Etter (233 digs).

Others in Sarles’ lineup are freshman setter Hunter Gross (294 assists), who moved from junior varsity to varsity in mid-April; junior middle hitter Nik Welch (145 kills, 73 digs), sophomore middle Quinn Cataldi (137 kills), and two more juniors, Travis Nerding (117 digs) and Spencer Sullivan (22 blocks, 186 assists).

Key Grizzly Cubs reserves include 6-5 outside hitter Branden Hardesty and Caleb Young, defensive specialists Phoenix Campos and Camilo Mera, and sophomore setter Juan Sundheimer.

Hardesty and the 6-3 Welch are both members of the school’s boys basketball program. This is Welch’s third season of volleyball, Hardesty’s first. Rice in February wrapped up his Franklin swimming career and will be part of the men’s swim program at DePauw University beginning the 2014-15 school year.

Rice also js a four-year varsity volleyball player who insists his two favorite sports are more alike than one might guess.

“Swimming for sure helps me be a better volleyball player because of the conditioning you put your body through. And explosiveness and reaction time are big in both, too,” he said.

Franklin’s high-water mark in this, its 12th season as a member of the Indiana Boys Volleyball Coaches Association, is a third-place performance at the 2008 state finals.

Sarles isn’t about to predict an improved placing Saturday. Then again, she’s not about to bet against it.

“This group doesn’t quit even when (losing) seems like a forgone conclusion,” she said. “It’s a team with a tremendous amount of grit and great chemistry.”

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