Hilltopper Boys Volleyball Now a Reality
March 16, 2023 by Rich Kelly

When you walk into the main entrance at Chardon High School, you enter a section of the building that did not yet exist when this reporter roamed those hallways.

Game photos click here.

When you walk into the main entrance at Chardon High School, you enter a section of the building that did not yet exist when this reporter roamed those hallways.

You ascend the steps to find photos, plaques and trophies from days gone by, Hilltopper athletic successes and achievements. Just above those steps, a plaque commemorates the dedication of the building back in 1950. On that plaque are names of the school board then, administration and building architects.

Superintendent was C. O. Reef, who lived three doors down from the house my parents built on Park Avenue. At 6-foot-8 or near to it, Mr. Reef was very imposing but kind. I had no idea he was superintendent when he and his wife gave me my first job cutting their lawn, and later had him for math at Park Junior High.

There is a tradition of excellence in Chardon, a school system that has produced state championship teams, and is only the 10th team in Ohio history to win a football and baseball state title in the same school year, as recently as last spring.

Now we see what will happen with the new kid in town: boys volleyball.

Last Friday night, Chardon’s new team took the court for its debut appearance. The atmosphere was electric with a nearly full gymnasium of parents, alumni and Crazies. Athletic Director Doug Snyder was busy the entire event, as pregame ceremonies took place in anticipation of a battle with the Nordonia Knights.

Lights went out, spotlights were one, strobes were flashing, and anybody who said they were calm in the venue was fooling themselves. Though the Hilltoppers would come out on the short end of a 3-1 decision, the team showed enough promise to stir positive vibes about future successes.

“It’s such a great honor for me to be standing here with these great kids on such a special day,” Head Coach Bryan Sutton said amidst all the hoopla of the evening. “This is my first job as a head coach in volleyball, but I fell in love with the game back in my days here myself around 2001 or so. I was able to be a varsity assistant at NDCL with Tom Ray for a few years, and I just learned so much about the game itself, so getting to share what I’ve learned is such a big thing for me, and my family, too.”

Chardon dropped the first set by a 25-8 score, not scoring a point from service. No athlete wants to fail in front of friends and peers, and in the Hilltoppers’ recent culture of winning, there may have been a bit more pressure to win than usual. But the student section on the home side overflowed with support from CHS athletes just the same.

Nordonia had a big edge, literally, in the middle of its lineup in 6-foot-7 junior middle hitter Brandon Matteo, and that is where the Toppers could have used the height of Mr. Reef.

That said, after falling behind by a 3-0 score to start the second set, a new energy level came to pass as Chardon got things going as a team for the very first time. Fighting through eight lead changes and 10 ties, a block on Matteo from Chardon AFS foreign exchange student Juan Panella, a senior, tied the score in that set at 26-26.

When sophomore libero David Williams sent a power slam to the floor for the lead, and a dink attempt went wide of the net, the Hilltoppers won their first set in school history.

Then the Knights were stirred back to life, and won the final two sets by scores of 25-14 and 25-8 to take the match for themselves.

These Hilltoppers only started practicing together in late January, and got together just once in the 10 days before their first game. Volleyball is a game of momentum, and simply put, the young and inexperienced Hilltoppers really didn’t get much going. But Chardon’s excitement around the evening ensured that this group of young athletes, a couple who are part of title-winning teams, got off to a superb start in their new sport.

Just a freshman, Ian Galati had a super night leading the way for Chardon, and the memories he will take with him are too numerous to describe.

“I’ve never experienced anything like this,” he said. “This is just amazing to be part of.”

Galati’s evening consisted of seven kills and four blocks against a much taller Nordonia team.

Panella had three blocks while doing superb work setting and keeping cannon shots to the floor alive defensively.

Additionally, senior Joe Evans paced the scoring for Chardon with six points.

Coach Sutton said he is pleased to be part of a new opportunity for kids who may not play football, baseball or other sports.

“I fell in love with the game, and volleyball can also provide some kids with a way to get a good education in college, too,” he said. “The reason we play, though, is to have fun, and this event was just so huge, I’m having problems settling down from everything that went on right now. It was just that great a thing to be part of.”

Chardon’s new boys volleyball team consists of 12 players: seniors Panella, Evans, Nolan Kirsh and Lewin Uhler; juniors Logan Bryant, Nick Derezic, Noah Galati, Jackson Houser and Nate Suszynski; sophomore Williams; and freshmen Ian Galati and Tristan Martinez.

Even if they don’t win a match, they will have made school history — but stay tuned for a fun season ahead.