BY DOMENIC ALLEGRA ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR
Young athletes try out for new sports for various reasons. Some athletes want to try something new or their parents make them play, but not for men’s volleyball’s Bryce Gatling.
Gatling played tennis in seventh grade, but when it came time to tryout in eighth grade, they were rained out.
However, instead of walking home, Gatling went to the gym. When he went inside he saw that the girl’s volleyball team was practicing with the boy’s volleyball team. Gatling then saw a girl he thought was cute, so he ended up thinking, “You know, I’m gonna stay and, like, maybe try out.”
Gatling made the team, and during his eighth-grade campaign, the high school coach came to one of his games. According to Gatling, he said, “Okay, you’re pretty tall, but you probably won’t play outside [hitter], but you can come try out for the team if you want.”
The Norfolk native went on to play all four years at Norview High School. He was named MVP three of his four years and received All-Conference honors all four years of his career.
When it came time to decide where to take his talent, Gatling did not even really want to go to Mason.
He was not initially offered any scholarship aid, while Ohio State — another great volleyball school — had offered 50 percent in scholarship money.
However, head coach Jay Hosack came on board in 2015. “Then [Hosack] was like ‘Hey come take a visit,’ and I told mom that was I was really on the fence about it,” Gatling said.
Hosack brought Gatling on a tour of the campus and ended the tour at Oh George’s at University Mall.
“We got to Oh George’s and in there [Hosack] was like ‘Hey, I got scholarship money for you.’ And I was like ‘No way!’ I didn’t expect that and I ended up calling my high school coach to tell him all about it,” Gatling said.
Gatling’s favorite memory came less than a year later at one of men’s volleyball’s summer practices.
While the team was training for diving, Hosack was tossing balls at the players and they would go and dive for them.
However, if a player messed up, they would receive a punishment.
Gatling recalled the event, while laughing: “[Hosack] threw a ball and I looked at it and I didn’t see it, and coach was like ‘What are you doing?’ And I was like ‘You know, I don’t know.’ So he throws it again and I didn’t dive, so he’s like, ‘You’re not going to dive for that ball?’”
“So he started chucking balls across the Linn gym and I was like, ‘Why is he throwing balls?’”
Gatling would have to try to dive for balls that Hosack was throwing all around the gym.
“My teammate Brian Negron was like, ‘Start running!’ And then I was like, ‘Oh OK, now I get it,’ so I started running back and forth across the gym for like [30 seconds],” Gatling said.
What Gatling failed to mention to his coach at the time was the fact that he had asthma.
“So I ended up having an asthma attack and had to get a trainer to come in. And [Hosack] ended up canceling practice and then he walked up and was like, ‘Why the hell didn’t you tell me you had asthma?’ And I responded like, ‘I don’t know, I didn’t think it was that important,’ and meanwhile I’m just gasping on the ground dying,” Gatling said.
Since then Gatling has gone on to play in 185 sets and 61 matches. He has recorded 224 kills and a 1.14 kills per set average.
Even though Mason is currently sitting at No. 11 in the NCAA, Gatling does not think too much about it. “It doesn’t matter to me,” Gatling said. “We could be top five or number one in the country, but at the end of the season, it is about getting that better in that gym so in a matter of time we can get to that conference championship or national championship.”
Even after losing senior Hayden Wagner indefinitely, one of the best players on the team, Mason is still finding ways to win. “I think a lot of people thought that, because one our better players was down for the count, we were really [going to] lose all these games, but I think [because we’re] able to still win without Hayden, [it] shows the foundation we have on this team and the trust we have in the coaches,” Gatling said.
“It’s easy to be like, ‘Oh the season is over because our best player’s out.’ But instead of doing that, we kept our attitude and effort up high, kept winning games, we still put the work in every day. We still have that foundation, that hard work we put in and that testament to want to win. So regardless of who’s going to be in or out, we’re going to continue to win games,” he said.
With the NCAA DI Volleyball Championship coming to Mason in May, the Patriots could very well end up there.
“If we do make it to the tournament, nobody wants to play us because they don’t understand how we’re doing so well with one of our better players out,” Hosack said. “The reason we’re doing this well is because we’re f—— good.”
Even though a Championship may be only a couple blocks away, Gatling wishes to leave a different kind of legacy.
“I can’t tell you today whether you’ll see us [at the National Championship], but I want to leave is just a lasting impression on the freshman,” Gatling said. “I had four years to accomplish something, so in my last year, I don’t want to put pressure on myself or my teammates to do something that I had four or five years to do. So, what I want to accomplish as a senior is to show the freshmen how to work harder, so when they become a sophomore, junior, senior, they can push themselves to achieve something that maybe I couldn’t achieve my last year.