MEN'S VOLLEYBALL: Young players wait, prepare for future
Freshmen developing from veteran leadership despite little playing time
Kevin Owens won three state titles in high school and was named as an American Volleyball Coaches Association First-Team All-American. Urim Demirovski was named his team's Most Valuable Performer as a senior and led his high school team to a first-place finish in the South Suburban Conference.
Now both freshmen on the Ball State men's volleyball team — middle attacker Owens and outside attacker Demirovski — have faced an unfamiliar situation in their volleyball careers this season: standing on the sidelines.
Through Ball State's 25 matches this season, Owens has played in only six, while Demirovski has stepped onto the court for only one.
The sudden change in identity from star player to spectator has been a difficult adjustment for both players.
"It's definitely been a challenge," Owens said. "Obviously, coming out of high school I was used to playing a lot, but Anders [Nelson] and J.D. [Gasparovic] are two really great players. And it's definitely made me work a lot harder to try to show that I can compete at a level similar to them."
Nelson and Gasparovic are not the only two veterans who sit in front of the freshmen on the depth chart. A logjam at outside attacker with players such as Greg Herceg, Larry Wrather, Jamion Hartley and Marcus Imwalle has made it hard for Demirovski to find a spot in the rotation.
But while Owens and Demirovski haven't seen much playing time, the leadership of Ball State's veterans in practice has been vital to their development.
"Larry Wrather has taken me under his wing," Demirovski said. "Him and I are really close off the court. I ask him questions about certain stuff and he'll let me know, because as a freshman last year, he started more than half the games."
Senior outside attacker Lee Meyer said he's been impressed not only with the two true freshman, but the other younger players on the team as well.
"I definitely think they're all good quality players who have a lot of potential for the next two, three or four years," he said. "I think they've learned a lot from our game play and our competitive nature on the court."
After the 2011 season, there will be significant changes in Ball State's lineup, with Nelson, Meyer, Gasparovic and Imwalle all graduating.
At that time, Owens and Demirovski will no longer be playing behind tested players. They'll be counted on to play significant roles for Ball State.
Coach Joel Walton said he's excited to see how each player grows into filling those roles.
"Owens, I think in time, has the ability to be one of our program's best middle attackers," he said. "Physically, he gets to a place that very few of our middles have ever gotten to. [Urim] does ball control well, and he's getting even better, both offensively and defensively."
Until that time comes, the two young players will continue learning from the ones in front of them, knowing that it will be their turn soon.
"Between drills or reps, they're always saying ‘Try this' or ‘Try that,'" Owens said. "They can see everything in my game that needs improvement, and they're helping me with that every day."