In last year’s first-round play-in against heavily favored Archbishop McCarthy — a team composed of senior club-level players — Cardinal Gibbons battled the Mavericks for four sets before being eliminated from the postseason.
Whether the Chiefs can pull off the upset this season and reach the state tournament for the first time since 2008 will rely heavily on their outside-hitting tandem of senior Dylan Hall and sophomore Corry Short.
Hall and Short both compete for the Ocean Bay Club, but on different teams because two years separate them. Their paths to success don’t mirror one another.
Anticipating the chance to play libero his freshman season, Hall began to complain about his aching back during conditioning. When he told his family members, they didn’t think there was anything to worry about.
It got to the point where it was unbearable at school — he couldn’t even sit at his desk — before his parents agreed to an X-ray. The scan revealed a crack, showing the same double fracture in his back that his older brother, Tyler, once sustained.
“It devastated me,” said Hall, who thought his high-school career would be over. “It put me down and depressed. I had to watch the team fall in regionals when we played Archbishop McCarthy, and I knew I couldn’t do anything about it.”
For four months, Hall couldn’t perform any physical activity while wearing a brace on his back. Doctors told him he would be 100 percent as soon as it came off, but he rushed into club ball, and it continued to hurt because his muscles were weak.
While undergoing physical therapy, his back got better. Though still not at full health, Hall makes sure to stretch before and after games so he could play the sport he loves.
“I thought, ‘Why me,’ ” said Hall, who is also a state finalist in swimming. “This can’t happen to me. I knew if I continued to strengthen it, it would get better. I knew things would get better. There would be that one time where I could play volleyball and nothing would hurt.”
Short, meanwhile, played a vital role as a starter during his freshman year.
Throughout the season, Hall noticed Short becoming more consistent with his shots, trying to place rather than power through them. By the 21st game —as Hall recounts — he knew Short would have a huge impact on the team, filling in the shoes of the former outside hitter Thomas Nobles.
After all, volleyball runs in the Short family. Corry’s sister, Mary Kate, and brother, Michael, competed for Gibbons. In the eighth grade, Corry grew five inches to his current height of 6-3. Mary Kate is 6-2 and Michael 6-5. They often joke about the irony of having the last name Short.
He and his siblings would play games on the front lawn after school. Aside from introducing him to the game, they also helped develop his competitive nature.
It paid off last summer when Short was recognized by USA Volleyball and selected to represent the national team in his age group.
“A lot of it has been instilled in me from my dad and family and everybody that I surround myself with,” said Corry, who also captained the Gibbons junior varsity basketball team. “We’re all competitors, and since I surround myself with them, it pushes me. It makes me better.”
Yet despite their different styles, coach Mike Zarate believes the pair is equally adept at ball control. Even their statistics from last season are fairly similar: Hall finished with 263 kills, 141 service points, 176 digs, 32 aces and 22 blocks. Short had 242 kills, 140 service points, 145 digs, 28 aces and 20 blocks.
“They complement each other, which means they work really, really well together as a team ,and they both have very good skill level,” Zarate said. “The two of them together is the best combination. I knew when they would come back next year the potential to win would be there.”