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MEN'S SERVE: UJ adding men’s volleyball in spring of 2020

Briar Cliff University outside hitter Ivan Trifunovic, right, goes for a kill attempt against Dordt College as teammate Peyton Schirman (88) looks on during NAIA men's volleyball action last season. Briar Cliff and Dordt are two of three current men's volleyball teams in the Great Plains Athletic Conference. Brandon Foote / Briar Cliff Sports Information Director

University of Jamestown women's volleyball coach Jon Hegerle is embracing men's volleyball on campus.

The local university publicly announced last week it is in the process of hiring a men's volleyball coach and will field a team beginning in the spring of 2020. The sport has begun to take off at the collegiate level in recent years, and high schools—schools not too far away from Jamestown—have also began to offer the sport to boys.

"It's been kinda interesting to me how things usually start at the bottom and move up," Hegerle said. "Men's volleyball almost feels the complete opposite. There are three teams in the GPAC right now, and I would guess in the next five years more—if not all—will have a men's volleyball team."

University of Jamestown will mark the fourth of 11 GPAC, or Great Plains Athletic Conference, schools to field a men's volleyball team. It'll join Sioux City-area institutions Briar Cliff, Morningside and Dordt.

The NAIA announced this past spring that by meeting the 40-team threshold the sport will become the NAIA's 26th championship sport beginning this coming season. Men's volleyball, still in its NAIA infancy, just completed its third national invitational tournament held April 17-21 in Des Moines, Iowa.

Grand View (Iowa) is the reigning national invitational champion. Briar Cliff qualified for the eight-team tournament and finished 2018 at 16-6 overall and ranked sixth in the NAIA Coaches' Top 10 Poll.

University of Jamestown, which fired up an ACHA Division I men's hockey program in the fall of 2016, currently offers nine men's sports, eight women's sports and three coed sports.

"Right now we're in the process of hiring a (men's volleyball) head coach and, much like the hockey model, we'll recruit for an entire year and have the roster set and ready to go by the fall of 2019 to begin play in the spring of 2020," said University of Jamestown athletics director Sean Johnson.

Johnson explained the sport should be a solid fit for UJ strategically. The opening of the 61,000-square-foot Harold Newman Arena on campus last fall was a factor in the decision-making process.

"We talked with the students to see what they'd like to see, and also took a look at what would work best with the facilities we currently have," Johnson said. "Obviously, we have a beautiful facility in Harold Newman Arena. I think there is a great pool of potential college men's volleyball players out there, we just have to find the right person to go out and find those athletes who best fit the University of Jamestown."

Boys volleyball has yet to make an appearance in high school gyms across North Dakota, but that's not the case in Minnesota. The Minnesota Boys High School Volleyball League, consisting of 21 schools and 38 teams in the Twin Cities' metro area, just completed its first season back in April.

The prep league, started by Minnesota Hall of Fame volleyball coach Walt Weaver and University of Minnesota volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon, consisted of more than 400 high school boys.

Hegerle, who was born in the Twin Cities and has helped coach summer volleyball camps with Weaver the past 25 years, confirmed the sport has started an upward spike at the high school level in his home state.

"I've known Walt since I was born, and he was surprised things have gone so quickly down in the Twin Cities," Hegerle said. "I just see it growing faster and faster. People have been talking about boys and men's volleyball since I was a kid and the flood gates are finally open."

The NAIA men's volleyball schedule runs from early February to mid-April, a period of time in which Johnson believes will benefit local sports fans.

"I think for our fans it's a good bridge from the end of the basketball season to when we can actually play a (home) baseball or softball game, or get to host an outdoor track meet," Johnson said. "The sport is definitely growing and hopefully one day it will be a (GPAC) conference championship sport."

Hegerle said he's optimistic men's volleyball on campus will positively impact his women's program, which he's guided to national prominence since taking over in 2009.

"Obviously, I love volleyball and like to see it grow," Hegerle said. "It'll be exciting for the university and the community. (Men's volleyball) is just so physical. It's a different game."

Michael Savaloja

Hometown: Churchs Ferry, N.D.; College: North Dakota

A recipient of the NDHSCA Award of Merit, Savaloja has been reporting sports for The Sun since 2008.

Follow on Twitter: @MichaelSavaloja

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