Grand Canyon University men’s recruit Nolan Flexen has been home schooled his entire life.
“I love it. I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” he said from his home in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. “It’s been awesome. I like the flexibility of choosing what I’m learning and when I want to learn. Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely hands-on.”
The 6-foot-8 Flexen, who shot up the recruiting charts within the last year and finished eighth in the VolleyballMag.com ranking of top senior boys recruits in the class of 2020 as part of our annual Boys Fab 50 presentation, explains that his mother gives him the yearly curriculum, “and I do it on my own,” he said.
But education for the outside hitter isn’t a walk in the park. Flexen added that he’s taking a number of college-level courses right now, including advanced economics. He labels it a dual-enrollment with the Phoenix, Arizona-based Grand Canyon.
“I’m taking my fourth and fifth college classes and plan on taking a sixth when those two are over,” he said. “I’m taking an English 2 class and some college algebra, which is a prerequisite for another class I have to take.”
Flexen estimates by the time he graduates from high school this spring he should be able to walk into Grand Canyon’s doors with around 23 college credits jingling in his pockets.
“I should have something like a full semester going in,” he said. “It will be nice and it will lighten up the load a little bit when the season comes around and I am taking more intense college classes.”
So how does a home-school kid have a high-school graduation ceremony with no physical school to go to?
“There is an organization called CAPE (Christian Association of Parent Educators) that runs a graduation-type thing with other home-schoolers,” Flexen said. “They run a ceremony. I’m not sure if it will happen (due to the pandemic).”
What is happening is Flexen’s continued rising stock as a volleyball talent. His introduction to the game has a familial back story.
Flexen’s mother, Season, and aunt, Megan, played at Lubbock Christian University in Lubbock, Texas.
“My mom also coached a girls team and she brought me and my brother (Kolton) to practice. We had fun with it and we started playing with a (home-school) boys team. We loved it.”
Flexen said he started getting serious about the sport within the last year. He started playing in a men’s rec league in nearby Albuquerque (Rio Rancho is a nearby suburb of Albuquerque).
“I outgrew the boys home-school league I was playing in,” he said. “One of the guys who saw me practice said there was a club team in Florida that needed a middle, and I was playing middle at the time. He said it could be a chance to get colleges to look at me.”
That club was 352 Elite and Flexen ended up playing in three tournaments with them, including USA Volleyball Junior Nationals last July.
“That’s when I started taking it more seriously,” he said. “I definitely got into it more.”
This year, Flexen hooked up with the Arizona Fear club team.
“When I was at nationals last year, I was talking to some coaches and one of the Grand Canyon coaches knew I was from New Mexico and was traveling all the way to Florida,” he said. “He knew the club director at Arizona Fear and they offered me a spot. I have loved it ever since.”
Flexen said it’s about a six-and-a-half-hour drive or a 45-minute flight to Phoenix. His brother, Kolton, plays on the AZ Fear 17s team, so he has plenty of company on the treks west. Flexen said his brother is a good player and an even better passer than he is.
“We had been driving out there one or two times a month for tournaments and practices,” he said. “We have been taking that drive a lot lately.”
Looking back at his rapid development in the sport, Flexen credits his mother for lighting the initial fuse.
“A lot this I got from my mom,” he said. “It comes from practicing with her team at a young age. She taught me a lot. I was in that gym three or four times a week and I never put down the ball. I took every opportunity to get better and practice. She helped me out a lot.”
And pretty soon Flexen will turn his attention to this next chapter of his career in Phoenix for a Grand Canyon team that was on the upswing when the COVID-19 stoppage hit. Grand Canyon finished the season 14-7, was in second place in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, and was ranked No. 11 in the AVCA national poll when the season was canceled. Coach Matt Werle has led the Lopes to winning records in four of his five seasons as GCU’s full-time head coach).
“I’m excited. I wasn’t expecting this would actually happen (getting to play in college),” he said. “Grand Canyon is close to home and I love coach Werle. I love his coaching style. What you see with him with the way he coaches is what you always get. He’s never hot and cold. He always has one personality to him. His coaching style is a big attraction.”
As Flexen moves into the twilight of his high school experience, he has plenty of motivation to keep going full-steam ahead and not fall into the senior-itis trap.
“I like to get things done,” said Flexen, who has picked up a writing hobby in his spare time and has gotten into ping-pong playing with his brother. “And I like to get good grades so I can pursue volleyball at a higher level. Even without volleyball, I have always been a go-getter. But ever since I started getting really serious about volleyball, I like to get my school stuff done and keep my grades up so I can go play for Grand Canyon.”
And Flexen continues to hold out hope, despite the current COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, that he will have one more youth hurrah at junior nationals in Reno, Nevada in July.
“I’m definitely ready to get back into the gym and play some more,” he said. “We have two tournaments left in Anaheim and then nationals. I’m praying they don’t get cancelled.”