York Catholic enjoys early success with its first-year boys' volleyball program

York Catholic volleyball coach Phil Autrey. Dawn J. Sagert photo

It wasn’t all that long ago when Phil Autrey envisioned the day when York Catholic would have its own boys’ volleyball program.

Little did he know, that day came much sooner than he anticipated.

Expecting to help usher in a program that he hoped would someday compete with local powers such as Northeastern, Central York and York Suburban, Autrey recently discovered that York Catholic's upstart program was getting thrown into the proverbial fire right away.

Just months after officially becoming a recognized sport at the school, the Fighting Irish are already competing in meaningful games, with a roster that was only recently pieced together.

Moments after Autrey watched his team sweep Eastern York Monday evening, the YC coach reflected on the suddenness of his dream becoming reality.

“I don’t think we’ll be challenging Northeastern any time soon,” joked Autrey, who led the Irish girls’ volleyball team to the District 3 Class 2-A finals this past fall. “But this is pretty good for being a first-year program.”

Autrey admittedly didn’t have any grand ideas for the program that he didn’t expect to be in full force until next season. But when he got the OK from YC athletic director Kevin Bankos to run with his idea, things quickly accerlated.

“I’ve been kicking around the idea of this for a couple of years,” said Autrey, who connected to many of his players as a math teach at the school. “And we were looking to have a couple of open gyms last year before COVID hit and I just thought that there was no way that we would have a team this year. But then Bankos said to me that if I wanted to have a boys’ team to just go ahead.”

Most of YC's players compete in other sports: Fortunately for Autrey, a few of his now-current players shared a similar interest in adding boys’ volleyball as an option. Most of them played other sports, such as basketball, soccer, baseball, track and even wrestling.

So while being green in terms of volleyball IQ, they all share a degree of athleticism that lends itself to the sport.

“I always enjoyed playing volleyball as an intramural kind of thing,” said John Forjan, who is one of three basketball players on the roster, including his twin brother, Luke. “And me and a lot of my close friends always play volleyball, so we all just ended up picking it up together. Over (last) summer we played a lot of it.”

John Forjan actually played for a club volleyball team last summer to earn the moniker of the most-experienced player on a very inexperienced roster. Now he finds himself quarterbacking the team on the court as the setter, perhaps the most important position in the sport.

“I played outdoor volleyball, but the transition from outdoor to indoor is kind of difficult,” John Forjan said. “And I’m still trying to learn and get all of the basics of setting down. I’ve worked on it a lot and hopefully I can benefit my team.”

Praise for the coach: Forjan praised Autrey for being the right guy to get things started.

While Autrey has exclusively coached girls' teams in the past, his knowledge of the sport has proven invaluable for the 12 players on the combined junior varsity/varsity roster.

“Coach has been hard on me in the best way possible,” Forjan said. “He’s helped me learn and develop as a player. I wouldn’t be nearly as good as I am without him.”

Enjoying early success: Autrey has been pleasantly surprised at how quickly the team has grown since that one practice last year to Monday’s 3-0 triumph against the Golden Knights.

After starting the season with a loss against Central Dauphin East, the Irish picked up the program’s first-ever victory over Red Land last week.

The experiences of everyone playing other sports has certainly helped the cause.

“With these guys I feel like I can use a lot of other sports analogies to get the point across,” he said. “So I can talk about how you move you feet as a defender in basketball and how it’s similar to how to get into position here. And I think that’s helped them understand the game faster than just using just volleyball terms, which they still sometimes have no idea about.”

Not an easy learning curve: Learning the lingo and the tendencies and best practices of playing the sport doesn’t come quick, nor easily.

So despite Monday’s victory improving the Irish to a 2-1 record overall, Autrey isn’t rushing any plans to add a banner up for boys’ volleyball in the York Catholic gym anytime soon. The Irish are competing as an independent this season and are not yet official members of the York-Adams League.

“We’re still trying to work on the technical piece of the sport,” Autrey said. “The skills will come, but you can’t be highly successful unless you’re both technically and fundamentally sound, but we’re getting there.”

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