The future of Thornton Fractional United boys volleyball is, at first glance, mostly hair — jet black, artfully mussed and plentiful.
At a spare 6-foot-1, 130 pounds, there isn't much else to notice about freshman Julian Ayar, until he rises to take a swing at the ball.
If the ball goes down, it does so quickly. If Ayar's timing is off, as it is from time to time, his landing brings with it classic teen-angst pantomime — hands to the head, or slapping at the ball as it comes back off the net, or wiping through the air is if batting down some unseen lightning bug hovering near the 10-foot line.
"The thing I like most about him is he doesn't ever seem to lose confidence in himself," United coach Peg Haney said. "Out there with juniors and seniors, he's not backing down, not shying away.
"He doesn't like to lose."
Unfortunately, Ayar may have to get used to it.
The co-op volleyball team of T.F. North and South students hasn't had much success as it enters its fourth season. Last year's 4-21 mark was a hair better than the two preceding seasons, according to Haney. Six players graduated from that squad.
"I've got seven guys playing their first year of volleyball," Haney said. "That's a lot on a varsity team."
The inexperience showed Monday at T.F. North, where United fell 25-17, 25-14 to Argo in a South Suburban Conference match.
United (0-6, 0-2) led twice, at 1-0 and 9-8 in the first set, but Argo (2-6, 1-3) pulled away behind the hitting of Jose Soto (7 kills). In the second set, the Argonauts' Sam De La Rosa served his team to an 8-0 lead before United played them essentially even the rest of the way.
Along with the net presence of junior Jose Gonzalez (3 blocks), Ayar was a main reason United hung around, with three of his team-high four kills on the match coming as the home team cut a 16-6 deficit to 18-11. Not that he was checking the numbers afterward.
"I just want to practice, work hard and work as a team," he said. "I think we can take this program all the way."
We, indeed. Haney had another freshman — right side/setter Corey Postema — in the starting lineup, along with juniors Daniel Bell and Janel Lawani. Sophomore Edgar Orozco, unavailable Monday, also looms large in Haney's plans.
But, the co-op is a success in that United can field teams on three levels. Neither North or South alone could play both a freshman and sophomore schedule.
"The hope is we keep on building," Haney said. "There are a lot of sophomores getting experience, playing all the time."