Special players help teams do special things.
And Glenbard West (Glen Ellyn, Ill.) recent graduate Paulie Bischoff did just that for his Hilltoppers this season.
In addition to living up to the hype and then some heaped on by observers as the top prep setter in the Class of 2016, Bischoff displayed elite leadership skills in helping direct Glenbard West to a perfect season (42-0 in matches and 84-0 in sets) and the program’s second Illinois state championship in a row.
Bischoff’s play also has earned him the honor of being named the 2016 VolleyballMag.com boys’ high school player of the year.
“He’s, by far, the best setter in the country,” Glenbard West coach Christine Giunta-Mayer says. “It’s remarkable what he’s done.”
Giunta-Mayer has led Glenbard West to three state podium finishes in a row. That includes a third place, the two state titles and a 79-2 record over the last two years. He says what sets Bischoff apart from the pack isn’t necessarily the mechanical aspect of the important position he plays, but rather how he conducts himself in that role.
“For me, Paul has changed the face of volleyball,” she says. “He’s not the stereotypical setter. He’s very unassuming and low-key out and calm out there. He has a presence on the floor like nobody I’ve ever seen play. It’s unreal what he can get his teammates to do. He’s a behind-the-scenes guy. Kids want to follow his lead.
“Our senior class didn’t want to waste their last opportunity playing with him and our junior class played extraordinary this year. Nobody wanted to let Paul Bischoff down. He has an aura and presence about him that drives people to him. He’s the best representative we could have for Glenbard West.”
Loyola-Chicago-bound Kyler Kotsakis, Glenbard West’s 6-5 senior right-side hitter this past season, agrees.
“He has the talent. He’s obviously the best setter in the nation,” Kotsakis says. “But the way he composes himself on the court is something I haven’t seen. He’s so calm and composed. He has a way of motivating players.”
Kotsakis adds that Bischoff, who is going to play at Stanford, immediately rubs off on the rest of the team.
“You want to play well because you don’t want to let him down,” he says. “You have to bring you’re ‘A’ game when you are playing with him. He’s a great leader who always knows what to say and when to say it. He always was there for us. When things go astray on the court, he finds a way to get things done. Just pass it up to Paul and he’ll find a way to get someone a 1-on-1 block. Just pass it to Paul and he’ll get hitters in great situations. It’s been a pleasure playing with him the last five or six years.”
The 6-5 Bischoff says his biggest improvement this year came in the department he’s most known for.
“I probably was more of a vocal leader this year,” he says. “In past years I led in terms of my actions and this year it was more of what I did verbally. That’s very important being a senior leader on the court. I enjoy being a leader. At most points when we are playing, the game is in my hands. When things go wrong out there, you are mostly to blame. But it felt good to be in that position and have that pressure.”
Bischoff enjoys the freedom the setting position gives him.
“You have more creativity,” he says. “I like being the quarterback and running the offense and designing plays. There is a lot more openness to move around and that’s what makes it the most fun to me.”
Bischoff stresses gives plenty of credit to his teammates.
“My teammates were tremendous, especially the underclassmen,” he says. “Throughout my high-school career I’ve been with seniors each year and I know how to work with them. As a senior playing with new underclassmen, they helped me a ton because they blended right in and they really stepped up in terms of fulfilling roles we needed. They were pivotal in our run to the state championship and I owe a lot to them and to my teammates. They made us so strong.”
Bischoff notes his greatest memory of the state-run was being able to do it with long-time friends.
“We were the closest of friends,” he says. “When you have that, it’s easier to play on the court. Most of us played club together. When you are spending all your time together and training together, it gives you a huge advantage and it builds chemistry. You know how to work with every player. Being able to do this with my closest friends made everything 10 times more fun.”
Bischoff, who accumulated a 5.25 grade-point average at Glenbard West, also heaped plenty of praise on Giunta-Mayer.
“Coach modeled strict practices and made sure we were in the film room,” he says. “She did an amazing job. Our toughest competition sometimes was the players on the other side of the net in practice. We were able to model an intense practice environment throughout the year.”
And now Bischoff will take his talents west to Palo Alto, Calif., and Stanford. “It’s a dream come true to go to Stanford,” says Bischoff, who plans to study human biology. “It was the top school on my mind. I’m so blessed to be considered by Stanford. It means a lot to be able to go there. I don’t think it’s hit me yet that I’m going to Stanford.”
Will Church, a 6-4 senior middle blocker, put Bischoff’s worth into some straight-to-the-point words.
“He’s the main reason we’ve had such a successful past couple years,” he says. “He was our best player and was paramount to what we did. He’s an amazing athlete and one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen.”
Giunta-Mayer remembers seeing Bischoff for the first time when he was in middle school.
“I saw him in seventh grade at a clinic when he was 5-3,” she says. “He was a very good athlete and had great attention to detail and was extremely coachable.
There was just something about him.”
And some six years later, Giunta-Mayer has an even higher opinion.
“Everything he touches turns to gold,” she says. “I owe a lot to him. He’s the face of my program. He’s so well respected. He never let us down.
“Who’s the person you want to have the ball in their hands every time? Paul Bischoff. In high school, he was a man playing a boys’ sport.”