BELLEVILLE — The Althoff Crusaders start the volleyball season knowing that they will be a decided underdog nearly every time they take the court.
The smallest school in the metro-east to participate in boys volleyball at the varsity level, the Crusaders simply don't have the numbers, the athletes or the experience to match the strength of schools like Edwardsville, O'Fallon or Belleville East on a daily basis.
"There are so many athletes to go around and when you are competing against Southwestern Conference schools who have 1,800-2,400 kids, it is hard to compete. But the one thing about Althoff is that we do compete,'' Althoff coach Tim Gagen said. "Looking at our athletic programs over the years we've still done a pretty good job.
"The experience factor is the main thing. There are always a couple of players on the floor who don't have much experience. But you live with it. You work with the players you have and you get better. That's what I think will happen this year.''
Led by four returning starters, including sophomore libero Carson Von Alst and sophomore setter Donovan Gagen, Althoff opens its season Thursday, when it hosts Edwardsville beginning at 5 p.m.
The Crusaders host Belleville East on Monday with early season matches against O'Fallon and Belleville West set for early April.
Although it finished with an 8-14 record in 2013, Althoff was in almost every match according to Gagen.
"We probably had two or three of those that we could have won which slipped away,'' Gagen said. "I like what we have this year. We've got 17 kid in the program, including six freshmen. Hopefully that bodes well for the future.
"The Catholic grade schools all have volleyball and the coaches are all very supportive. It's just going to take a while.''
Von Alst and Donovan Gagen will be the mainstays for the Crusaders this spring. Up front, senior David Edelmann makes the switch from right-side hitter to the outside, while senior Erik Krauss will be at middle blocker.
Seniors David Rall and B.J. Ray will both see playing time at right-side hitter, while senior Max Orlet (middle blocker) and junior Hayden Buss (outside hitter) are others who will see a lot of playing time.
As for the Crusaders, Gagen knows it will be a good season.
"Teams are going to walk in here (Althoff) and see a team that doesn't have a lot of height or experience, but they will see a team that will play hard every second it's on the court,'' Gagen said. "If you give 100 percent then good things will happen and I look forward to seeing those things come about this season.
"The Crusaders will be fine. It will be a fun year.''