Boys Can Play Volleyball Too? San Rafael High School’s Newest Sport Found Success in its First Season 


Estelle Engelskirchen, Contributor

Last spring, San Rafael High School’s new boys volleyball team started their first season late with a team of eleven who had never played the sport before. Quite literally the underdawgs, they went into the season with an openness to learn, and they came out with two wins. 

“Volleyball is a really fun, active spring sport that would be very beneficial to join. It doesn’t matter what grade you are, because everyone gets to know everyone pretty fast, and we all get a lot better together,” says Ben Chamberlain (class of 2025), one of two freshmen who played on the team last year. “Most people are new to the sport, so literally any skill level is welcome, and we all learn together as a group.”

San Rafael High School has never before been home to a boys volleyball team, the very last school of the main participating schools in the Marin County Athletic League (MCAL) to create one. Determined students successfully created the first team at SRHS last spring with help from the athletic department. 

During their debut season in the spring of 2022, the small group of eleven excelled under the leadership of their coach Jessica Woodall-Massey, overcoming the fact that not a single member of the team had ever played volleyball competitively prior to the beginning of the season. 

Co-Director of the San Rafael High Athletics Department, Jeremie Brunet confirmed that San Rafael has never had a boys volleyball team, although there have been many attempts to start one, especially from members of the girls volleyball team. 

These have fallen short several times due to lack of motivation and difficulty meeting the standards of the Athletic Department for creating a new team at SR. 

Brunet explained that, when students want to add a sport to SR Athletics’ already impressive roster, they must show “proof of concept” by agreeing to be entirely self-funded during their first season, as well as showing that they have enough youth on the team to continue it. 

“As much as we want to start every sport possible, there has to be proof that the sport has a potential longevity,” Brunet said. 

Last spring, the dedicated efforts of student athletes Mary Healy and O’marion Beard (class of 23) were enough to finally get the program through. Mary remembered her teammates on the girls varsity volleyball team trying to start a boys team back in 2020, but their efforts were derailed by the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Two years later, Mary revived the idea. 

She found interest among her 2023 classmates, especially from O’marion Beard, a football player with a knack for picking up new sports. He’d been watching the girls team play for years, and thought, “I want to do this.”

The two worked with Co-Athletic Directors Jose De La Rosa and Jeremie Brunet during the spring of 2022 to gauge students’ interest in the team through lunch meetings. They also found their coach with Jessica Woodall-Massey, the head coach of the girls varsity volleyball team

Coach Jess, as her players refer to her, is deeply entrenched in Marin volleyball, having played at Marin Catholic High School and Dominican University, then gone on to coach at a local volleyball club called Marin Juniors. 

She was very proud of the progress the boys made, and continuously reminded them that, “We can figure this out, we’ll take it one step at a time.”

At the first team tryout, Coach Jess remembered only five boys showing up. This number grew to eleven players by the end of the season, with four seniors, five juniors, two freshmen, and no sophomores. Though the team was small, they were not lacking in passion. Mary Healy recalls one player’s habit of shrieking every time he missed the ball or made a mistake. “He would just absolutely let it go,” she said. 

The team was approved at the beginning of the spring season, unfortunately too late to join the MCAL circuit that season. They played a variety of teams, in the MCAL and outside of it.  

In the first season of the San Rafael boys volleyball franchise, they finished with a record of two wins and nine losses, taking eleven players who had never played the game competitively before and turning them into capable players.

Andre Kfouri, a senior member of this year’s team, said, “We were all really inexperienced. Because we were all starting at the same level, we were trying to build each other up at the same time.”

Andre explained that, at the beginning of the season, the team kept their expectations low. 

“As long as we could just win a set against an MCAL team,” Andre recalled. That was the team’s goal. 

For a team to win a game of volleyball, they must win three sets.  A set is won when one team wins a total of 25 points, but the winning team has to win by at least 2 points. 

The team’s second ever game was against San Marin High School, a member of the MCAL. They won the game, winning three sets to San Marin’s one. They’d blown past their season goal by only their second game. 

Andre said they amended their goals after that, “Our expectations developed as we developed as players.”

They went on to win a second game against Roseland University Prep, and put up good fights against other strong teams. 

The team hopes to be successful in future years as well. Coach Jess says, “Every year, [we’ll have] a little more success, creating a positive culture to make it a program that people want to be a part of.”

She hopes to have a Junior Varsity team in addition to the Varsity team in the next couple years. O’marion’s goal for the next season is to simply, “Win more games, get more people, show up, and show out.” 

Growth is very important for the fledgling team as it goes into its second season, however, with the majority of the returning players consisting of current seniors, players like O’marion worry about the future of the team. 

Boys volleyball faces a couple of issues as it attempts to grow. For one, San Rafael High School offers a multitude of spring sports for male athletes. Sports like swimming, mountain biking, boys golf, boys tennis, and baseball all draw the male student-athlete population away from volleyball. 

Additionally, there aren’t many opportunities for boys to play volleyball from a young age. Of two very successful club volleyball programs in Marin, only one has a boys team, which was made available fairly recently compared to the girls.

These clubs are also expensive for players that aren’t truly dedicated to the sport. Coach Jess recommends other ways to make volleyball accessible in the future, such as more volleyball in PE, or open gyms for people to learn about it.