Scorpions and Panthers combine for boys volleyball team

Steven Bortstein
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The sport of high school boys volleyball is finding a home locally, with its sights set on expanding to becoming the next sanctioned sport in the state of New Mexico.

The FHS/PVHS United Boys Volleyball Club, comprised of players from both Farmington High School and Piedra Vista High School, faced competition this past weekend at La Cueva High School, beating teams from Eldorado, Sandia and La Cueva.

The team is coached by Lars Baker, who also serves as girls volleyball coach at Farmington High School. He decided to take on the role as coach late last year when approached by coaches at Sandia High School, who had been affiliated previously with state-sanctioned prep boys volleyball in Florida.

The team is made up of more than 16 players, representing the A and B squads which played in separate matches this past weekend. Many of the players on the boys volleyball team come from basketball, as well as soccer, football and track and field while others were not involved in athletics at all.

Members of the FHS/PV United Boys Volleyball team pose for photos players from La Cueva, Sandia High and Eldorado after participating in matches, Saturday, April 9 at La Cueva High School.

"That's been most gratifying is seeing those who didn't have any athletic experience," Baker said. "We've got a couple track and field kids who came over after a meet to play with the team."

Some of those players on the FHS/PVHS United team include Farmington High School's Luke Lake, as well as Piedra Vista's Axel Ramos and Darius Murray, who have all learned to join together as a team in a short amount of time.

"These kids all come from different sports and all have a lot of power and can all jump out of the gym," Baker said.

In addition to Sandia, La Cueva, Eldorado and the FHS/PVHS United team, there are six other prep boys volleyball teams around the state. There are high school boys volleyball teams being formed at at Los Alamos, Gadsden, Cibola and East Mountain High Schools while Rio Rancho has a team already competing.

"We're still in the beginning stages across the state," Baker said. "We need 10 percent of the schools in the state to field a team before we can ask the New Mexico Activities Association to get a vote to sanction the sport."

Luke Lake (14), playing for the FHS/PVHS United Boys Volleyball team, converts a kill in a match against Sandia, Saturday, April 9, 2022 at La Cueva High School.

With 160 member schools in the NMAA, that means at least 16 schools would need to field a boys volleyball team in order to be considered a state-sanctioned sport.

"I don't think we'll break 12 this year, so we'll just have to keep pushing and promoting and trying to build it," Baker said.

Last month, the Utah High School Activities Association announced that its Board of Trustees voted to sanction boys volleyball beginning in the 2023-24 school year. A UHSAA press release says competition will begin in the spring 2024 season.

According to participation statistics released by the National Federation of High Schools, 25 states are currently participating in sanctioned boys volleyball, dating as far back as 2018.

Many of those states are on the east coast, including Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, but the shift has grown in recent years to include California, Nevada, Arizona and Colorado.

With last month's announcement by the UHSAA, New Mexico is now the only state in the Four Corners to not have sanctioned high school volleyball.

"It is the single fastest growing sport percentage wise," Baker said. "Where it was five years ago and where it is today, it has taken off all across the country."

There are currently efforts underway in states like Oklahoma and Texas to advance boys volleyball outside of the club phase and into the state's high schools. And the arguments in favor of it are fairly simple, according to Asa Freeman, founder and president of the Oklahoma Boys Volleyball Association.

“Not only is it the fastest-growing sport in the country, but it’s also the easiest and cheapest sport to add to any school because you already have all the equipment there for the girls,” Freeman said.

The sport of boys volleyball would be played in the spring, when gyms are normally not being used for sports, as baseball, softball, tennis and track and field are all played outdoors. 

"For all those reasons, we're really excited about the future of the sport here," Baker said.

The discussion of adding boys volleyball to a state level has led some to speculate that it's a sport for females only and that perhaps fans would be hesitant to endorse a boys volleyball team.

"It's a powderpuff thing," Baker said. "But when you watch high level boys volleyball, it's a power sport. It's like seeing a dunk in basketball, and just trying to get that point of view across to some who see it a spandex-wearing beach sport is really trying to break some stereotypes."

For spectators of last weekend's event, many of them came away with a new perspective, not only perhaps on the sport of volleyball, but the pace in which it is played by athletes who may not have participated in the sport beforehand.

"It was exciting, the people were really into it," Baker said. "I think once people realize how aggressive and up-tempo the game is, and how powerful and finesse it is at the same time, I think the fans have been and will continue to be appreciative." 

The FHS/PVHS United team will be in action again on Saturday, April 23 in Albuquerque, and while an actual site has yet to be determined, the hope is that many of the same schools will send teams.

"Hopefully we can have multiple events and matches going on that weekend," Baker said.

For more information on the FHS/PVHS United team, log onto the Farmington High School volleyball team's official Facebook page.

Steve Bortstein can be reached via email at SBortstein@Gannett.com, via Twitter @DTSBortstein or on the phone at (505) 635-2680. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.