Billie Hwang, the founder of Absolute Zero Volleyball Club on Mercer Island, has set out to grow the sport of boys volleyball in the Northwest.
Hwang, an experienced volleyball player and coach, founded Absolute Zero Volleyball Club on Mercer Island seven years ago, originally as a girls volleyball club. Beginning four years ago, Hwang started to offer boys club volleyball as well.
“At that point, we had 15 boys from varying ages — from 11 years old to freshmen (in high school),” Hwang said. “Now we’re one of the largest boys clubs in the region.”
In order to help grow the game in the region, Hwang teamed up with Trine University (of Indiana) head mens volleyball coach Brendan Ledwith, Roland Madany of the Evergreen Region Volleyball Association and volleyball coach Mike Griffin to create a Washington, Oregon, Montana and Idaho contingency to help grow the game.
“We wanted to grow boys volleyball in the Northwest,” Hwang said. “Prior to us starting this consortium, there were a couple of boys programs around these states, but nothing really strong. We didn’t have a large contingency.”
Together, they created the Western Boys Powerleague which offers high quality boys volleyball tournaments with a relaxed atmosphere.
“Volleyball in our area is kind of perceived as a (girls) sport,” Hwang said. “We thought it was important that we establish a tournament series specifically for boys.”
Hwang said the number of teams participating has grown from 12 boys teams in year one of the league, to 36 teams that participated in the annual Mercer Island boys volleyball tournament last year.
Since 2015, Absolute Zero Volleyball Club has hosted an annual boys volleyball tournament on the Island every March. This year, the tournament will be held at Mercer Island High School, the Mercer Island Country Club and the Mercer Island Community and Events Center on March 14-15. For Hwang, it was important for the tournament to highlight Mercer Island.
Hwang said they hope to expand the tournament and boys volleyball while also bringing in more of a community feel.
“We’ve been on Mercer Island the entire seven years that my club has been in existence,” Hwang said. “For me it was really important to keep the big tournament on the Island and to bring in a lot of business in addition to that.”
Along with the tournament, the club also offers a yearly college recruiting camp to help local boys volleyball players get recruited to play at the college level. The most recent camp had 21 participants.
“In the last five years, men’s college volleyball around the country has sky-rocketed,” Hwang said. “So there are so many opportunities for high schoolers to play at the collegiate level.”
“A lot of things have changed and I think, especially in our area, the boys don’t really know about the opportunity that you can play collegiately,” Hwang said. “If you look online, there are tons of new programs that are popping up all over.”
In order to continue to grow the game, Hwang said it’s important to bring in younger kids to teach them what volleyball is all about. To reach a younger audience, they started a boys only volleyball league in conjunction with the Bellevue Boys and Girls Club.
Hwang said that to be a great volleyball player involves a lot of small working pieces.
“(Volleyball) is the most difficult sport to learn. It’s a frustrating sport to learn. It’s incredibly dynamic and everything changes on the fly,” Hwang said. “But it’s also one of the most cerebral sports that you’ll ever be able to play. You’re constantly thinking about strategies of the other side, on the fly. A lot of it is a reaction, but also being thoughtful in how to play the game.”
Along with the tournament, the club is planning showcase high school matches in the spring. Hwang said it’s important to show the public that boys have the option to play volleyball and to provide the game more exposure.
For those interested in trying boys volleyball or learning more about Absolute Zero Volleyball Club, visit the club’s website at https://sites.google.com/site/absolutezerovbc/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org.