Jake Piekarski recently shaved his head, as did his dad and brother.
More than a dozen Marian Catholic students, including Jake, a junior at the Chicago Heights school, shored their locks for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, raising money for pediatric cancer research along the way.
They now rock the cue-ball look. However, this wasn’t the first time Jake, dad Bob and freshman brother Zak bonded over something spherical and white.
Now going on five years, the traditions at the Piekarski household in Lansing revolve around volleyball.
This season 6-foot-3 Jake is poised for a breakout year, and Zak should see some varsity playing time while Bob, the coach, juggles his roster and the club team responsibilities of his eighth-grade daughter.
“Sometimes it can be a little crazy,” Jake Piekarski said. “It’s a whole lot of fun. We all love the sport, from playing to watching each other. We all give each other a lot of support no matter what we do.”
A family vacation is typically a trip to a national volleyball event. For example, last summer Jordan Piekarski, the eighth-grade girls volleyball player, who takes one class a day, Honors Biology, at Marian, qualified for a national beach doubles tournament in Hermosa Beach, Calif. The boys ended up in a nearby beach tournament and attended a clinic at the University of Southern California. Even Mom keeps statistics and helps with both the boys and girls volleyball teams at Marian.
“Our entire life seems to be practicing or playing volleyball,” said Bob Piekarski, who’s been playing and coaching in the sport for more than 35 years.
Bob started a program from scratch at St. Ann’s in Lansing when Jake was in eighth grade, but it wasn’t a selfish ploy because many of Jake’s classmates were already club players seeking a school-based outlet for volleyball.
When Jake arrived at Marian he was starting at middle hitter for the freshman A team and setting for the B team. His sophomore year he was the only non-senior starting and took time to gain confidence.
Eventually he had a few match-ending kills and gelled with his teammates as an outside hitter.
On a team that had its best season in seven years but graduated eight seniors last spring, Jake is one of just two returning players with club experience.
“The biggest thing has been watching the development and progression he went though,” Bob Piekarski said. “You see the hard work, and now it’s paying off.”
Extra jump training has given Piekarski a 30-inch vertical, and he can touch 10 feet, 7 inches. Club experience has helped him become a player to watch, and as the team around him develops he’ll likely field scholarship offers.
“He’s really developed as a middle,” Bob Piekarski said. “His blocking is coming on a ton.”
Dad has great expectations, but for the most part Jake doesn’t mind being the coach’s son.
“Sometimes it can be extremely stressful -- the feeling of having to perform at the highest level possible, but there’s so much that he offers in terms of knowledge and experience that I wouldn’t change it for the world,” Jake said. “It’s going to be interesting with Zak. We occasionally have our fights, but we absolutely love each other. I value his skills, and I really couldn’t live without him.”
Both boys are straight-A students, and Jake is in the top 10 percent of his class, obsessed with aerospace engineering. This summer he’ll head to California to take classes at Stanford University in calculus and mechanical engineering.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s all worth it,” Jake said. “(Hard work is) definitely hard-driven in our family. My parents work incredibly, incredibly hard to give us all these opportunities, and we’ve just learned to reciprocate that.”