Fort Wayne volleyball team feeding off #norespect

The improvement of junior setter Michael Keegan is one reason why the Fort Wayne men's volleyball team is off to a 7-0 start. (By Aaron Suozzi/Fort Wayne Athletics)

Every day before practice, Fort Wayne men’s volleyball coach Ryan Perrotte writes #norespect on the board near IPFW’s Arnie Ball Court. The third-year coach has found the perfect ideal to inspire his young team’s urgency.

“Rock was never a big guy for motivational speeches, but this year he’s been getting into it a little more,” junior outside hitter Tony Price said. “Nothing matters that we’ve done because people still don’t respect us. It’s just another reason to go out there every match and earn that respect. It’s still a good motivational factor because we’ve always got that in the back of our heads.”

For the first time since their 2007 NCAA Tournament finalist season, the Volleydons are 7-0, and they are starting to gain a little bit of national respect as they are No. 15 in this week’s national coaches poll, the first time the Volleydons have been ranked since 2015. They get a major test this weekend when they travel to Pennsylvania to play Saint Francis and Penn State.

“We’re winning all these matches and we’re not getting the national recognition that they feel we have earned,” Perrotte said. “That has stoked the fire for them a little bit and that’s a good thing. You have to have this chip on our shoulder. They have this no respect thing in their mind, `Well I’m going to earn that respect.’ ”

Though there have been no wins over ranked teams, a 7-0 start is still remark considering last year the squad finished 5-23. There was a season-ending injury to Price during the first match of the season, and then freshman surprise Pelegrin Vargas got knocked out in the second half.

The only good thing about the injuries was that some very young players had to grow up quickly and now are adjusted to major college play. They trust themselves and each other, meaning Perrotte has six starters returning — and none of them are seniors.

“This year is a lot of fun,” junior setter Michael Keegan said. “Food takes better, drinks taste better, you sleep better at night, everything is better when you are winning. Going through those first two years has made us hungry to win this year. We know what losing is like and we all hate that feeling so there’s a little extra motivation for us to never have to go through that again.”

Keegan may be the perfect example of a player who has improved the most. During his first two seasons, a lot of fingers were pointed at him as he tried to grow into the job. Now he’s worked hard on every part of his game and suddenly his setting got a lot better when he has a full lineup of experienced hitters to get the ball to. He also leads the team in digs.

“I can make whatever decision I feel is best,” he said. “It makes me look better, but they are doing most of the heavy lifting. I’m trying to do my best to get them the best opportunities to score.”

But how real and worthy is this optimism? Does it deserve the respect?

“All fall we preached about being hungry but yet humble,” Perrotte said. “We were the 5-23 team a year ago so we know what it’s like to be at rock bottom. Our team has embraced the grind, the process and now they are embracing victory and now they are moving forward. We’re going to take our punches, that’s going to happen. What’s the response factor going to be? Is it going to deflate our swagger to where it deflates us, or is it going to humble us to the point where we get hungry again?

“It would be interesting to see what happens if we were to lose a match and see what the response factor is because right now we believe we can beat anybody on any given night.”