NEWTOWN – Often, injuries can interrupt an athlete’s career or end it permanently. In some cases, however, a mishap brings about a switch to another sport, one that allows the competitor to refocus his talents and rise to new heights.
Sean Helmlinger, Council Rock North volleyball player, is just such an athlete. At an early age, a serious injury forced Sean to rethink his sports career. “I started playing volleyball in eighth grade. I was injured from another sport so I had to leave it. I hurt my hip in soccer. I was running and a growth plate popped off and I had to go to the emergency room. My brother played volleyball so I decided to give it a try and really liked it.”
Sean immediately valued the team aspect of his new sport. “I liked the fact that you had to be a cohesive group. You have to have a lot of coordination with everybody. It includes everybody. You can’t have any weak links. It’s a sport that is very team dependent.”
Over the years, Council Rock North has shown it is just such a smooth-working unit. Last season, the Rock posted an 18-4 record, tied Pennsbury for top spot in the Suburban One League (SOL) National Division, captured second place in the District One Class 3A tournament, and finished the ninth-best team in Pennsylvania according to the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches’ Association.
Consistent with the flow of scholastic sports, however, the Indians lost a bevy of seniors to graduation. Gone were such talented players as Jason Yakimiv, Eric Van Thuyne, Will Desautelle, Alex Sacerno and Logan Fuglestad.
As one of two seniors listed on this year’s varsity roster, Sean knew he would have to provide the leadership as the new-look Indians found their team chemistry. “We have a lot of seniors that left us and we have a lot of juniors. So we are still figuring some stuff out in communications. We have to get a feel for each other and how we play together.”
Almost understandably, The Rock did not fare as well in their early season meeting with eternal rival Pennsbury. They lost in straight sets by scores of 25-16, 25-16, 25-14. Despite the loss, Sean remained optimistic. “I think things are going well, even though we lost to Pennsbury. I think as we develop our chemistry, we will come back very strong as the season goes on.”
The Indians’ next few games validated Sean’s faith in his youthful teammates. After losing to the Falcons, North bounced back in the Bobcat Invitational Tournament. “There, we played with intensity. We played really well against some of the top teams in the state. We played Parkland, a team that has beaten us out in the first round of the states the last two years. Though they lost some seniors, they’re still a really tough team. I wanted to win so badly. We came out on top.”
The Indians followed that successful outing by beating crosstown rival Council Rock South in straight sets, 25-19, 25-18, 25-18. Harry Wyatt led the Indians with 11 kills and four digs. Jack Gunshenan added nine kills, three blocks, three digs and a block.
Sean played his normal inspired game as middle hitter, contributing three kills and one ace to the Rock total. “I’m the middle hitter. My job is to get up whenever the ball is near the net as if I’m going to hit the ball. That way, I can keep the other team’s middle blocker there and open the court for the outside hitters.”
Sean also has to be mindful of his defensive responsibilities. “I have to keep track of the other team’s three hitters. I can’t be falling for their middle hitter when he fakes. I have to be ready to block and go for tips.”
Despite North’s definitive victory over South, Sean felt the team could have done better. “I think we underestimated South. We came out sloppy. We decided to just keep the ball in play. We knew our basics and foundation of volleyball was stronger. We tried to go back to basics with simple plays.”
After winning the match, the Indians did some soul searching. “We didn’t feel that great. We thought we weren’t as intense as we were on Saturday (at the Bobcat Tournament). We didn’t have a lot of hype going in.”
The Rock saw their following night matchup against William Tennent as a chance for redemption. “We tried to correct ourselves at Tennent and regain the intensity we showed at the Bobcat Tournament.”
The Indians fulfilled their aims, sweeping a tough Tennent team 25-13, 25-15, 26-24. Jack Gunshenan had eight kills and three digs. Harry Wyatt collected six kills, three digs and one block.
Sean felt proud of the team’s overall play. “We definitely brought the intensity. We had a lot of communication on defense and figured out where to be on the court.”
With each game, North is developing the harmony that just might earn them a third straight trip to states.