Neuqua Valley, St. Francis grads let their play do the talking
Maybe it's the sport, maybe it's the players, but neither Kevin Kauling nor Bryce Walker belabor what makes them great at volleyball.
"I'm athletic, I'm tall and I work really hard," said Kauling, a 6-foot-8 setter out of Neuqua Valley who plays at Lewis University.
"I hit the ball hard," said St. Francis graduate Walker, a 6-8 middle blocker who will play at Purdue-Fort Wayne. "That's what I've been told."
That's it. Their play does the talking. It says a lot.
Kauling and Walker are on the 20-man roster for USA Volleyball's Men's Junior National Training Team. Depending on what the COVID-19 pandemic situation allows they're due at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs from Aug. 20-31. After 10 days of training, coaches headed by Ohio State's Kevin Burch will decide the final 12 players for the Junior National Team. It'll quickly be tested at the Under-21 Pan American Cup in Colorado Springs.
"I'm not 100 percent sure it's really going to happen," said Kauling, a two-time captain of the Daily Herald DuPage All-Area Boys Volleyball Team. "I keep training like it is because I'm expecting it to happen."
An American Volleyball Coaches Association honorable-mention All-America selection his freshman season at Lewis after averaging 9.9 assists per set, Kauling is comfortable at this level.
In May 2019 Kauling played for the Men's Junior National Team at the Under-21 Pan American Cup in Lima, Peru. That August he was the starting setter for the 2019 U.S. Boys Youth National Team that played at the FIVB Under-19 World Championship in Tunisia.
Kauling, who left a promising, 11-year career as a swimmer to focus on volleyball, also was named to the 2018 Boys Youth National Training Team. After those tryouts he returned to help Neuqua Valley take second in the 2019 state tournament.
"It's always exciting to make these kinds of teams because you represent your country," he said. "It's a lot of fun because you meet a lot of new people, you go to a lot of good places and you get to play with guys from all over the country, many different universities. You compete against them in college and it's really cool to play with them all together competing for your country."
Kauling's club team was Sports Performance while Walker's was Future Volleyball, but they've faced each other in high school and club settings.
"I know most of the guys on the team, or I know of them," said Walker, who also starred in basketball at St. Francis. "I've played against them or have seen them play. All I can do is show up and compete, there's nothing more you can do."
Unlike Kauling with Lewis University, which was 15-4 and ranked fifth in the nation when its season was canceled, Walker's senior season at St. Francis never achieved liftoff.
In 2019, though, he was a Daily Herald DuPage All-Area pick, earned Illinois Prep Volleyball all-state honors and was St. Francis and Metro Suburban Conference MVP. Committing to Purdue-Fort Wayne with offers from Loyola, Ohio State, Pepperdine and Grand Canyon, at St. Francis Walker hammered 582 kills, plus 338 blocks and 230 digs.
He made the Men's Junior National Training Team at a tryout in California in January. He was in USA Volleyball's High Performance program the prior two years.
"I'll prepare the best I can the next couple months and give it my best shot, and that's all I can hope for," Walker said.
In a bevy of varied volleyball honors, Walker joined Josh Gottlieb and Zeo Meyer of Wheaton Warrenville South, Ben Harrington of Glenbard West and Justin Ross of Stevenson on VolleyballMag.com's 2020 Boys Fab 50 list, decided by Division I-II coaches. Timothy Christian's Kyle Teune was listed among 25 "Underclassmen to Watch."
Bella Bauman, of Grand Canyon and Glenbard South, was named to the women's Beach Collegiate National Team; Mihajlo Gomez (Loras College, Warren) made the men's beach team. Andrew Kohut (Belmont Abbey, Metea Valley) was named to USA Volleyball's 2020 U.S. Men's Collegiate National Team.
Mikayla Robinson (South Carolina, Harvest Christian) made the Women's Collegiate National Team -- Gold. Lauren Barnes (Wisconsin, Benet), Joslyn Boyer (Iowa, Montini) and Mckenna Slavik (Clemson, St. Charles East) made the Women's Collegiate National Team -- Anaheim.