JIM PETERS: Chesterton boys volleyball team reaches semistate in fourth year

2014-05-15T17:00:00Z 2014-05-15T21:35:39Z JIM PETERS: Chesterton boys volleyball team reaches semistate in fourth yearJim Peters Times Columnist nwitimes.com
May 15, 2014 5:00 pm  • 

When Emilier DeJesus moved to Chesterton from Puerto Rico in sixth grade, he still wasn't too far from a beach. He just didn't think there would be any more serious volleyball in his future.

Funny how things work out sometimes.

He found out about the fledgling boys volleyball program two years ago, joined as a sophomore an is now headed to play for Hannibal-LaGrange University.

"I didn't even know about it," DeJesus said.

He wasn't the only one. The third-ranked Trojans, who will play Lawrence North in the Indiana Boys Volleyball Coaches Association semistate Saturday at Lafayette Jefferson, aren't exactly a known commodity within their own school.

"There are so many activities offered to kids; there are probably seven that I don't know exist," coach Craig Cromwell said. "We're one of the seven for somebody else. It's gotten bigger, but there's a long way to go."

Cromwell, an assistant coach for the women's team at Valparaiso University, took on the labor of love in 2011. The core of his one-senior team is the quartet of his son Kai, Adam Whitlow, Dominic Raffin and Sam Tilden, who played for him in grade school at St. Pat's in Chesterton. Raffin juggles it with pole vaulting.

"They immediately made an impact their freshman year, their chemistry, ball control," Cromwell said. "They were just smaller. They are a lot more physical now. It made a huge change."

When Cromwell started the internally-funded program, he recruited out of intramurals. Now the players are the salespeople. It's how Jared Gallina, a sophomore football player who ranks No. 1 in his class, wound up joining. Max Dille and Jake Weber came from basketball.

"I hadn't really played besides gym class," Gallina said. "Someone on the team just asked me if I was interested."

While the skill set is completely different than football, it didn't take Gallina too long to start catching on.

"It helps to have better people around," he said. "Everybody's really nice. It's easy to make friends with everyone."

Chesterton isn't particularly big, but as their 16-7 record attests, it manages to make up for it with court savvy.

"The meat of our team is under 6 feet," Cromnwell said. "We're beating teams that are 6-4, 6-5, 6-6. The kids like each other. They have fun. They play hard for each other. They've got a good volleyball IQ. Their knowledge of the game makes them good."

Spending so much time together on road trips, the team has no choice but to bond. They are the only high school team in Northwest Indiana that plays in the spring, so save for a few home events, most of their in-season Saturdays involve car (or van) pooling to distant sites, including Chicago, St. Louis and Indianapolis.

"That's one of their favorite parts about it," Cromwell said. "They have a great time. The parents, the school, everybody's been great about it."

Chesterton has played a difficult schedule that includes a win over No. 2 Indianapolis Cathedral.

"We feel pretty confident we can put up a pretty good challenge with anybody," Cromwell said.

DeJesus and Gallina are both pleasantly surprised by the team's success in a short period of time.

"I'm really proud of where we've come," DeJesus said. "Everybody's worked really hard. Everybody's really close. We've got good chemistry on and off the court, which helps a lot. It's the best we've ever been."

A few more wins and that identity issue may no longer be a problem.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at james.peters@nwi.com.

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