Illinois-based talent becoming common theme for Ball State Men's Volleyball

<p>Ball State men's volleyball team cheers for their seniors on senior night before the Cardinals' game against Ohio State in April 7, 2019, in John E. Worthen . <strong>Eric Pritchett, DN</strong></p>

Ball State men's volleyball team cheers for their seniors on senior night before the Cardinals' game against Ohio State in April 7, 2019, in John E. Worthen . Eric Pritchett, DN

Entering his first season with Ball State Men’s Volleyball, freshman libero Sammy Adkisson has high expectations for his collegiate career. Having attended Vernon Hills High School in Vernon Hills, Illinois, Adkisson finished his high school career as the all-time digs leader in his school’s history with 1,016.  

However, his team wasn’t always the most competitive in key moments. 

“Our team was subpar,” Adkisson said. “After regionals, we didn’t make it very far. It was a fun team — we worked very hard but didn’t get many results.”

While Adkisson and his teammates were not always able to achieve their desired goals, Adkisson credited his local training programs in helping him succeed on the court and in coming to Ball State. 

“We had a really good system in Illinois,” Adkisson said. “I played a lot of good teams and a lot of good players on different teams, so I learned about different players and how to adjust around them.”

Although the Cardinals do not have any players from Indiana on their roster, nine of the team’s 20 players are from Illinois. According to a study by the National Federation of State High School Associations, Illinois had 7,341 participants in high school boys’ volleyball during the 2018-19 school year — second in America behind California.

Head coach Joel Walton said he believes Illinois has the deepest talent pool of boys’ high school volleyball players in the country. 

“We are fortunate to be close to Illinois,” Walton said. “The clubs that were primarily developed for girls way back in the day have now opened up their doors, and they’re including boys into their business model. The guys are having great opportunities to play for their high school teams, and they’re gaining valuable experience.”

Of the team’s four freshmen, three of them are from Illinois: Adkisson, setter David Flores (Lincoln-Way West) and middle attacker Will McPhillips (Lincoln-Way East). All three attended high school within a 50-mile radius from Chicago. 

McPhillips and Flores were recruited by the Cardinals in November 2018 and April 2019, respectively. Adkisson, on the other hand, is a recent addition to the team after successfully earning a libero position through a walk-on tryout this fall. 

“Sammy’s doing a very good job,” Walton said. “From what I’ve heard from the guys, he’s earned a lot of respect already. He’s been working hard and improving — he has a great attitude, and we’re pleased with his progress.”

Junior setter Quinn Isaacson, who attended Plainfield North High School in Plainfield, Illinois, said both his high school and club experience greatly prepared him for Ball State. 

In his junior year of high school, Isaacson played alongside another eventual Midwest Intercollegiate Volleyball Association standout in Kyle Piekarski, who is now a senior middle blocker for Loyola-Chicago. 

“Playing at Plainfield North was awesome,” Isaacson said. “I got to play with a lot of really good talent throughout those years. Add onto that with my club experience and some of my best friends I’ve ever played with.”

Isaacson said playing consistently throughout his club and high school years significantly developed his leadership skills in addition to having parents with coaching experience. 

“I’ve been a leader kind of my whole life with some of the teams I’ve played with,” Isaacson said. “Through club, I played with the same team for five years. It’s something that’s come naturally to me.”

The Cardinals’ nine players from Illinois are rounded out by junior libero Colin Ensalaco (Sandburg), senior outside attacker Blake Reardon (Joliet Catholic), senior middle attacker Nate Amos (Lake Zurich), sophomore middle attacker Felix Egharevba (Naperville Central) and sophomore outside attacker Nick Martinski (Elk Grove).   

Contact Connor Smith with comments at cnsmith@bsu.edu or on Twitter @cnsmithbsu.

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