They can't help but smile when they refer to themselves as the powerhouses of Anne Arundel County. While the Spalding and Annapolis Area Christian School boys' volleyball teams aren't the caliber of more established private school programs in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association, they are the only teams in the county.
With Spalding in its inaugural season and AACS in its third, the two schools have introduced the sport to boys who have never been part of a varsity team before, been cut from other sports or just want to try something new.
"The nice thing was we were all new and we could grow together," said AACS senior Matt Hay, whose first experience with high school sports began three years ago with volleyball. "That was kind of helpful."
"It was more equal," said Spalding junior captain Mike Malloy, who wanted to return to sports after being cut from the soccer team his freshman year. "You come out the first day and nobody knows who's good. Nobody expects you to be excellent."
After defeating Spalding, 15-7, 15-4, 9-15, 15-3, on Oct. 28, AACS is 7-11 this year in the MIAA, a far cry from its first season, when it won just one match. With only eight players on the roster, Spalding is experiencing the expected road bumps. Jeff Lynch is one of three freshmen on the Cavaliers' roster, and although he is eye-level with the bottom of the net, he is one of the team's better servers.
Both squads are competing against established programs. The Cavaliers haven't won a match yet, so winning a game is a small victory. Spalding freshman Matt Hunter had a bounce in his step after serving a game-winning point against AACS.
Volleyball is one more option for the boys, said Spalding Athletic Director Lee Dove, who became head coach after a four-month search ended without a viable candidate. Dove was intrigued by the sport after watching Calvert Hall play Mount St. Joseph last year.
"It's a totally different game than the girls'," he said. "It's so fast and the kids are so powerful. I'll promote it even though we haven't won a match this season."
"It's not like it doesn't matter if we lose, we just don't have the skills of other people who have been playing," Malloy said. "I think we've come a long way. The first day of practice, we were pretty bad. We're a lot better at the fundamentals."
The Eagles had a lucky coin made with their motto, "Bump, set, spike, have fun." And that's exactly what they do.
"Hey, I'm not perfect!" yelled AACS senior Patrick Hibbard when his return hit the net.
The Eagles' team is made up of seniors and freshmen, so much of this fall has been about teaching. AACS senior Robbie Mayer, who joined the team to stay in shape for basketball, took over the court when the freshmen came on. He told them where to go and tousled their hair after they made a mistake.
AACS senior Andrew Townshend quit soccer after two years on varsity in search of a different challenge and a college scholarship.
"I realized that volleyball was a sport I have more chance at a future in," said Townshend, also a varsity lacrosse player. "It's more probable I'll be able to play in college."
Dove said he expects a larger turnout next year, but AACS Coach David Leith said he's not sure about the future of the program.
"The problem in Anne Arundel County is all [the kids] see is girls playing, not guys," Leith said. "Until they see guys playing at the level they can . . . we're fighting a battle of perception."
But they're doing it with a smile.