A year ago, Aaron Larson had never played organized volleyball. But Wednesday, after returning from a recent European volleyball tour, Larson is enamored with the sport.
"I am loving volleyball more and more every time I play it," Larson said.
After only one year of playing experience with Juneau-Douglas High School's boys club volleyball team, Larson was accepted as one of only six male players for the Sports for Youth Goodwill Ambassadors volleyball tour to Europe.
"Aaron is extremely talented and was able to learn quickly," JDHS boys club volleyball team coach Becky Robertson said. "In volleyball, there are timing issues. (Aaron) is a smart player and he was able to soak up as much info as possible."
The tour team, comprised of over 40 teenagers from all over the U.S., traveled to France, U.K., Italy and Switzerland to play against student-aged club teams in each of the different European destinations.
The tour was a huge eye-opening experience according to Larson, who stumbled upon volleyball last year when some friends told him about a boys volleyball program at JDHS. Because boys volleyball is not yet a high school varsity sport in Alaska, Larson and his fellow club teammates had to make due by competing in the Juneau Department of Parks and Recreation's Men's Division Two volleyball program. Parks and Rec, however, did not prepare Larson for Europe.
"They (the European teams) play year-round and one of their players is coming over to UCLA to play volleyball," Larson said about the level of competition in Europe. "It's like someone you see on TV or something."
But the tour was not just all games and no fun.
"We took bus tours, boat tours, walking tours -- we saw everything there was possibly to see," said Larson, who qualified for the state track meet and was the playing manager for the boys basketball team during his senior year at JDHS.
Larson, who will attend University of Alaska Southeast this fall, is already getting ready for his next trip abroad.
"I'll be one of the members representing Alaska in next year's Arctic Winter Games in Greenland," Larson said. Also on Team Alaska will be eight other boys from the Juneau high school team.
The Juneau team usually practices about once a week and this year will graduate to Parks and Rec's Division One competition, according to coach Robertson. The team will also expand its roster to include two full six-person teams.
Robertson credits the junior high schools for the burgeoning interest in men's volleyball at JDHS. Boys in middle school have the opportunity to play co-ed volleyball and that exposure has led to growth in interest for boys who now want to continue playing in high school.
With Larson's successes in the sport, high school boys volleyball in Juneau is gaining momentum.
"Going to Europe and next year to Greenland, I mean I've done nothing this big in any of the other sports. It's up there -- definitely," Larson said.
Wayne Xia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.