The Manhattan Beach (California) Surf 15s team was seeded first in its final tournament leading up to USA Volleyball junior nationals in Dallas.
But in that event in Anaheim, MB Surf placed fifth.
“Ultimately that wasn’t our goal,” coach Bob McCarthy said. “If there was a tournament not do well at, that was the one not to do well at.”
So MB Surf returned to the practice gym with added focus before leaving for Dallas.
“We had two good weeks of practice,” he said. “We worked on getting our strengths even stronger and turning our weaknesses into strengths. They kept working hard for two weeks.”
And the result was MB Surf winning the 15s Open national championship. And for his work this past season, McCarthy is the 2019 VolleyballMag.com boys club coach of the year.
“What makes Bob such a good coach is his unique coaching styles,” said MB Surf’s Owen Loncar, the 15s Open tournament MVP.
“He will use boogie boards as a block and tell us to tool off them,” Loncar said, “which gave Ryan Sprague the most help because he tooled nearly every blocker at nationals.”
Loncar, who was joined on the 15s Open all-tournament team in Dallas by teammates Sprague, Mick Bakos, and Charlie Hammitt, noted McCarthy likes to use tennis balls when the middles would block, “to keep their hands strong.”
“Bob motivated us and he respects us, which makes us want to play our best on the court,” Loncar added. “He builds bonds with us on and off the court. He found new ways to teach us the skills of the game.”
Sprague also had plenty to say about his club coach and what he brought to the table this past season.
“He has passion for his players and the sport,” he said. “He cared about each individual on the team like they were family, and always wanted the best for us. He truly cared about his players.”
Sprague recalled a frequent McCarthy saying. “If all I do is make you guys better volleyball players, I have failed.”
“His main goal was to help my teammates and I improve to be better mean and teammates. His love for the sport is unmatchable,” Sprague added. “He always was looking for ways to improve our offensive and defensive scheme. If you looked over to the sideline during our match, he would be firing up our team and coaching with unexplainable energy.”
Both Sprague and Loncar feel McCarthy deserves plenty of credit for MB Surf bringing home Dallas gold. In Dallas, MB Surf went 11-0 and went 22-1 in sets, beating Sports Performance from the Chicago western suburbs for the top prize.
“The way he managed a lot of our big personalities on the team and the way he prepared us in practice for the tournaments was a huge part of the reason we won a big number of matches,” Sprague said.
“A big reason I believe we were so successful this season was how rarely we would beat ourselves. This is all due to the coaching he did in practice and matches.”
Loncar said McCarthy also was a big proponent of the involvement of assistant coaches Parker Boehle and Rowdy Lennon in the team’s preparation.
“Coach deserves a very good amount of credit, but so do our assistant coaches,” Loncar said. “While Bob was figuring out our practice plans we bonded with our two young coaches Parker and Rowdy. Both of them connected with us and we were close with all of them.”
Sprague added: “Coach brought out the best in our other coaches. He gave Parker, who has one of the best defensive minds I’ve been around, a lot of freedom to run our defense and give his input whenever he would like. Rowdy, who had never coached volleyball before, became a huge asset to us in practice and became vocal during matches due to coach McCarthy. I think one of the biggest attributes a head coach can have is not only making his players better, but his staff as well. Bob definitely did that.”
McCarthy heaped giant praise on Boehle and Lennon.
“Parker and Rowdy are unbelievable,” he said. “Without them, we don’t win a gold medal. The three of us are coach of the year. We are here for the kids to make sure they realize their fullest potential. At the end of the day, we felt very good about all the things we did to help them be successful.”
McCarthy said roster depth played a key role in MB Surf’s march to the title, particularly when the tournament stretched into the final days.
“We had 14 guys on the team,” he said. “Initially, I thought that was a lot to carry, but our second group was really strong. Our practices were competitive and that’s because we had that depth. We were confident we had people in roles who could do what we needed them to do. And throughout that tournament, our depth gave our guys the support they needed. They were able to rest because we didn’t have to lean on the starters 24-7. When we got to day three and day four of a four-day tournament, that was really big.”
Sprague added: “We would play so hard in practice where it would be very competitive and that made the games second nature for us.”
And McCarthy stressed his crew took a team-first approach from the outset. “It’s an unselfish group,” he said. “They weren’t overly concerned about who got credit. They knew they had to do it together and as a family on the court.”
Sprague noted he’s been best friends with teammates Hammitt, Bakos and Will Soderlund “since I can remember.”
“However, it was the connections we made with the unfamiliar faces on our team that built such a strong bond,” he explained. “Owen lives in the Palisades, which is about 40 minutes from Manhattan beach. He would come down and hang with us all day and became one of the boys, despite living in a different city and not knowing us before the season. Our team coming together as one was a big part of our team winning the national championship.”
McCarthy is in his 38th year coaching the sport. In addition to coaching at the collegiate level (Louisville), he also had success coaching girls and boys club in the Fresno, California, area with Central Cal VBC. He’s in his fourth year coaching the girls and boys teams at Downey High School in the Los Angeles suburbs.
“I’m humble about this,” said McCarthy about the coach of the year honor. “As a coach, there are a lot of accolades to give out. You have to have good kids and supportive parents and great assistant coaches. Without all of them this season, we don’t do any of this. I don’t take that lightly. The parents were there for us when we needed them, and they let us do our job, and for that I’m thankful.”
Loncar added: “Bob, Parker and Rowdy brought us in during the last three games and told us, ‘We are so damn proud of you guys, let’s play our hearts out and lets go win.’ That motivated all of us, and especially to be the first Surf team to win gold. That really gave us the fire to win it all.”
For more 2019 junior boys awards, our national boys club of the year awards went to Balboa Bay 16 Blue. Thursday we’ll have our national player of the year and club All-American team.