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Former Olympian Ball gathering team for national volleyball tournament

IPFW alumni preparing for one last chance to play together

Tuesday, April 16, 2013 - 6:33 am

Lloy Ball may have found his midlife crisis.

The 2008 Olympic gold medalist in men's volleyball is also helping a few friends explore their yearnings for youth. Three times a week Ball and a bunch of former IPFW players are training at the new SportONE Parkview Fieldhouse as they prepare to play in the USA Volleyball National Tournament in May in Louisville, Ky.

``It wasn't my idea originally,'' Ball admits. ``(IPFW men's assistant coach) Ryan Perotte wanted to play in one more nationals. Then I started looking at the procedures and the registration and started thinking about guys I always wanted to play with who were still around, and then I got excited about it. I decided to take it over, which is a good thing because Ryan is never here.''

By taking over, Ball means leading three-hour practices and then weight-lifting sessions. He figures if he can do the workouts at age 41, then the younger guys can handle them -- except all but a couple of players are past age 30. Why aren't there any younger guys to add some spring to the team's legs?

``Here's the problem: I don't like a lot of them,'' Ball said. ``I know what nationals is. Nationals is go down there and drink too much and then not be worth a crap on Day 3. Well, I'll go down there and have some beers with people I know, but I'm going down there to win. I want guys I can trust who I know will show up for the 8 a.m. match the next day.''

The group is hosting the Lloy Ball Classic tournament Saturday to get some competition. Play starts at 9 a.m. and continues all day.

The roster includes former IPFW players Loren Gebert (the oldest player at age 49), Jeff Ptak, Jorge Ralat, Chris Gisslen, Shawn Dryden, Darryl Shank, Oliver Kook, Cory Frain, Craig Collins, William Robbins and Perrotte, if he can be found. Dryden is the youngest at 23. Ball has also recruited a couple ringers, 6-foot-11 Russian middle hitter Alex Bogamolov and former United States national teammate Riley Salmons.

``They are guys who are old, but they are at awesome skill levels,'' Ptak said. ``It's amazing... I'm most proud that we can still function and care about our bodies enough that we can do this, and hopefully dominate the 20-year-olds.''

That's the other thing. Ball's Team Pineapple is not going to compete in an age-division tournament. They want to take on the tournament's best from any age in the open division.

``It's like a dream come true to play with Lloy and all these young guys,'' Gebert said. ``Just them wanting me to be on the team is reason enough. It gave me motivation to get back into the gym. I hate coaching, I hate anything to do with volleyball, but I love playing.''

Everyone also loves playing with Ball. Only Ralat, Collins and Perrotte are former IPFW teammates on this roster, but everyone has played against him during practices when they were Volleydons.

``It's one of the best times, practicing with Lloy, and we're all just having a blast,'' Ralat said. ``When you play with an Olympic gold medalist, you can't beat that.''

The funny thing is the practices are always relaxed and fun until things turn competitive in the final five minutes. Then the tempers come out and the fun is over.

Ptak continues to play professionally in Russia and Puerto Rico, so being able to train with such high-quality players is a bonus for him. He usually just works out and rarely touches a volleyball during the offseason.

``It's awesome, a great opportunity to play with the man with magic hands,'' Ptak said. ``He's still the captain. I think we're all pretty happy and excited and proud to be part of something like this.''

Plus, no one with any knowledge of the volleyball world thinks they have a chance, which just fires Ball up even more.

``I've been training still a lot, and this is a chance to come out here to be around the volleyball community and see some friends,'' Ball said. ``It's also a chance to do something that has never been done, win a men's open tournament with two guys over 40 and four guys over 35.''