Rockford area programs still have a long way to go before challenging their more established brethren in the Chicago area, but Boylan Catholic coach Tom Lynde likes the direction the sport is going in Northern Illinois.
“Our whole conference is very excited about it,” he said. “Boys’ volleyball is the fastest-growing sport in our conference. We see nothing but the thing improving, and someday we hope to be at the same level as the teams here in Chicago.
“We’re making big strides all the time,” Lynde said. “We’re very happy with how it’s going, for sure.”
This weekend, Rockford Boylan is making its second visit of the season to the Chicago area to participate in the Downers Grove South invite. Earlier this year, the Titans competed at the Oswego tournament where it suffered their only loss of 2018 – prior to Friday – against St. Patrick.
Boylan, seeded 14th in the 24-team field at Downers South, fell to 17-2 following its 25-14, 25-18 defeat by New Trier in its second pool match Friday. The teams were scheduled to play at 5:00 p.m., but New Trier’s bus was 45 minutes late getting to the school and the Trevians did not arrive until after 6.
So, the Titans opened pool play against No. 22-seed West Aurora. The Blackhawks proved to be a handful, but Boylan survived 30-28, 25-18.
“We’re a pretty formidable team for our conference, but it’s nice to come in here some of these suburban teams,” Lynde said. “They were seeded 22nd? Holy cow. We don’t see anything like that in our conference. It’s a different game here.”
A Rockford area team has never won a sectional game. Rockford Jefferson came within a few points in 2016, losing to St. Charles North 25-22, 23-25, 25-15 in a sectional semifinal at Lake Park.
Boylan’s 6-foot-2 junior outside hitter Parker Nelson was a member of that Jefferson team before transferring to Boylan.
“Small steps,” Nelson said. “We talk about state and how it would be really cool. But right now, we want to be that first Rockford team to take that step in the sectional and actually compete with a suburban team that’s had a program for a while.”
Boylan is assigned to the Grant sectional, where the field includes Libertyville, Barrington and Stevenson. But if anyone knows what it would take to take a Rockford-area team to state, it’s Nelson.
The Titans’ top hitter plays at Sports Performance during the club season and is a libero on the club’s No. 3 18s team – SPVB 18 Alpha. One of his Sports Performance teammates – 6-5 middle hitter Michael Walker – was on the other side of the net Friday playing for West Aurora.
“The first year we had volleyball in Rockford was pretty difficult,” Nelson said. “Not everyone joined right away. Not a lot of high schools were into it and not a lot of people had any faith in the sport because we’re all about basketball and football in Rockford.
“It takes patience, especially when you’re a player who’s been playing a lot longer than everyone else,” Nelson added. “It takes a lot of patience, a good coaching staff and everyone working hard together. If the ethic is the same, there’s no difference.”
Nelson followed in the footsteps of his siblings, including an older brother, Nick, and began playing volleyball at a young age. He practiced with the girls’ program at the Rockford Volleyball Club before he began making the 90-minute trip to Aurora.
Nelson also gets some good instruction at home. His mother, Susan Nelson, is a Boylan assistant coach and also coaches SPVB 18 Delta, which recently qualified in the 18 USA division for the USAV Boys Junior National Championships in Phoenix, Arizona, on July 2-9.
Parker Nelson put all that coaching to good use against West Aurora, leading the Titans with 9 kills. Josh Lynde, the Boylan coach’s nephew, added 5 kills, an ace and 3 blocks. Junior outside hitter Ryan Corrigan added 4 kills, an ace and 3 blocks.
“This is what we came to see,” coach Tom Lynde said. “Where we stack up and what we need to improve on for the playoffs.”