If first year Althoff volleyball coach Joe Murray gets frustrated the never-ending task of building the Crusaders program into a metro-east area power this season, all he has to do is remember the good old days when he played for the Crusaders.
A member of the first Althoff squad — and first boys volleyball team south of Chicago — in 2003-04, Murray said finding teams to play wasn’t an easy chore back then.
“We were the first team. Nobody else in Illinois played so I remeber that we had to go across the river (St. Louis) to play games. We never had many home games,” Murray said. “It wasn’t until my senior year that O’Fallon got its program started that we actually got the chance to play some home matches. The game has evolved since that time and its big in the (metro-east) now.
“More high schools are getting programs, you’ve got it in the junior high schools and of course club volleyball is huge. The players just keep getting bigger, stronger and the skill level gets better every year.”
Murray, who also coaches the Illinois Heat Club Team and the St. Teresa Junior High program, doesn’t have a lot of size on his first Althoff squad, which opened its 2015 season with losses to Edwardsville and Belleville East.
Leading the way in the early going have been freshman Jacob Gall, junior Jordan Eiler and senior Cody Harris. Gall is a member of Murray’s Illinois Heat team and has plenty of experience. Eiler is making the jump from junior varsity to varsity levels and Harris is a first-year player who will play college football at Milliken University in Decatur beginning later this summer.
“Jacob (Gall) is playing in the middle for us and is doing a good job,“ Murray said. “Cody (Harris) I don’t think has played a lot of volleyball in a few years, but we have him in the middle and are using him a little bit as a right side hitter and we’ve got Jacob (Eiler) on the outside as well. He had a good year at the junior varsity level last year, but he needs to be able to adjust to the speed of the game.”
Senior Hayden Buss is another strong hitter with good jmping ability, while junior Carson VonAlst needs to step up more as an offensive threat on the outside.
VonAlst is also an exceptional golfer.
“Hayden Buss can flat out jump out of the gym. But he’s got to learn to finish a little better where as Carson probably needs to develop a little more arm speed. But we’re working with him on that,” Murray said. “I think three or four of these kids have played club volleyball and with the rest of them, it’s not so much teaching them how to play, but moreso teaching effort and concentration. We’ve worked had on those two elements recently.”
Rounding out the Althoff roster are Royce Payne, Danny Oates, Grant Gall and Connor Fleming.