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Southwest Christian volleyball rose from humble start

10/14/2017, 4:45pm CDT
By JIM PAULSEN, Star Tribune

Coach Greg Sayuk built Southwest Christian program into a consistent winner.


Southwest Christian’s Greg Sayuk had never coached volleyball when he took over in 2004. Since then, the Stars have been in three state tournaments. (Mark Vancleve, Star Tribune)

Apparently, Southwest Christian volleyball coach Greg Sayuk is known to spin a yarn.

“He likes to tell stories,” senior outside hitter Brooke Herman said. “He told us about being in a rap band. His rap name was ‘Narcoleptic.’ That’s one of the fun parts of practice.”

There is one story Sayuk rarely mentions, however, one to which he’s inextricably tied. Under Sayuk, now in his 14th season, Southwest Christian has developed a volleyball program that has become not just a consistent winner but one of the top programs in Class 2A.

The stats back it up: an average of 21 victories per year, seven Minnesota Christian Athletic Association conference titles, three state tournament appearances and one state championship.

The Chaska school (enrollment 396) didn’t even have its own building, much less a gymnasium to call home, until five years ago. Before completion of the school’s campus in 2012, Southwest Christian was located in the old NordicTrack warehouse in Chaska. The team used the gymnasium at Crown College in St. Bonifacius for home matches.

“Uh, that’s a good question,” Sayuk responded when asked how he’s built a consistent winner at Southwest Christian. “When I first started, it was a number of good athletes that made us good. I don’t know that we’ve set any expectations. We’ve just been blessed to have high-quality kids.”

Another story, per Sayuk: When he first started, he knew as much about volleyball as he did about brain surgery.

“When I took over in 2004, I’d never coached a volleyball team before,” he said. “In my second year, I took a coaching job during the club season under [Hall of Fame and former Apple Valley] coach Walt Weaver,” he said. “I followed him around for the whole season. That was where I learned the most.”

The school benefited from being located in an area considered a volleyball hotbed. Accomplished programs are plentiful in the west metro, with schools such as Chaska, Eden Prairie, Prior Lake, Shakopee and Waconia nearby. It only makes sense, Sayuk said, that some of that talent would trickle down to Southwest Christian.

“Look at the programs around us,” he said. “There’s a lot of good quality training for players and because of that, it improves the level of play in the area.”

Sayuk credits Southwest Christian’s first state tournament appearance in 2008 for earning the Stars a new level of respect.

“We try to keep our schedule really tough to prepare us for competition at the end of the year,” Sayuk said. “In the first few years, before we made a name for ourselves, we were only getting a lot of average to below-average 3A schools to schedule us. Making the state tournament was a big boost. We went from a program nobody had heard of to a pretty solid squad. That’s when the schedule beefed up and we were able to get the big 3A teams — the Shakopees, the Chaskas, whoever else — on a regular basis.”

In 2013, Southwest Christian won the Class 1A championship with the most talented roster in team history. Two years later, the school’s growth forced a move up to Class 2A. The Stars have adapted well to the higher class, helped by a steady stream of incoming players.

“We always seem to have a next class coming up,” Sayuk said. “We’ll have three or four seniors, three or four juniors, three or four sophomores, one or two freshmen. There just seems to be a natural progression.”

The 2017 Stars are the epitome of a Sayuk-coached team. There’s talent, of course, but the reason the Stars have ranked in the top 10 in Class 2A all season is their versatility. There is no superstar to consistently produce a big kill or backboard defense. It’s a team with many good players who mesh together to create a sum greater than its parts.

“We’re deep and well-rounded,” Sayuk said. “If an all-state player rates as a 9 or a 10, this year we have a bunch of 7s and 8s. Having a team like this develops cohesiveness and a team concept. Everyone can see where they stand, and it keeps them working hard.”

That bond is what kept the Stars moving forward through a recent slump in which they lost four of seven matches. They’ve since responded, winning three matches in a row heading into a showdown Thursday against New Life Academy with the MCAA title on the line.

“Our dynamic is very strong,” Herman said. “We’re teammates and we’re friends, on and off the court. We learn from each other and we build off of each other.”

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