Caleb Blanchette is living a dream.
The Ravenwood High School sophomore took a monumental step in his fledgling volleyball career by earning a berth on the U.S. National Under-19 Volleyball Team which is currently competing in the Pan American Cup in Guatemala City, Guatemala.
Blanchette said last week when he arrived at USA Volleyball’s training facility in Anaheim, Calif., it really hit him.
“I mean, that’s where the national team trains,” he said over the phone. “It’s their place, and I can watch them train and work alongside them.
“It’s just really, really cool.”
Blanchette was one of 21 young men’s volleyball players invited to try out for 12 spots on the U19 team. He earned one of those spots and established himself as one of the top young talents in the country. Blanchette is also the only player from a landlocked state like Tennessee that does not have a sanctioned men’s volleyball program in the state.
“Almost everyone here is from California or Florida, so it’s different being the only kid from Tennessee,” said Blanchette, a 6-foot-5 setter who scored five points on two kills, two blocks and an ace on Tuesday in a pool game in Guatemala. . Team USA earned a 25-20, 25-17, 25-15 win over Costa Rica, and Blanchette gave the team a .333 hitting efficiency in the win.
Blanchette plays for a club team – C2 Attack Volleyball – which only practices once a month with male players from eight different states converging on the Nashville area. About 15 to 20 of the 60 team members come from the greater Nashville area, Blanchette said.
“It’s super difficult to only train once a month with your team, but a lot of us train with our women’s programs, which is huge,” he said. “There are a lot of differences though, because firstly the net is 8 inches lower and secondly there aren’t those physical 6ft 6in plus guys on the other side.”
It still works and brings Blanchette to the gym with other volleyball players every day. He served as manager of the Ravenwood women’s volleyball team which achieved the Class AAA state championship in October and was a welcome addition to coach Abbey West, who also worked with the older brother of Caleb, Gavin.
West, who is also general manager of the Alliance Volleyball Club in Franklin, said she regularly answers calls about men’s volleyball and expects to see the sport continue to grow locally for men.
“Unfortunately there is only one club offering it at the moment but we always get another phone call or email from someone asking about boys volleyball after moving from California or somewhere like that,” she said, adding that Blanchette also practices. with his best club team.
West said Blanchette “gets his fix” playing with his club once a month, but he’s never surrounded by players who “look like him, play like him and compete like him every day.”
“It’s really phenomenal when you think about his ability to hold himself accountable,” said West, who called Blanchette a “fast learner” and a “high IQ player.”
“He does so many things on his own – looks for other guys to play with, trains and plays every day as he can,” she said. “We club coaches will give him something to work on – whatever it is, his blocking, setting up or serving – and whatever it is, he will go home and he will work on it and come back better. better.
“That personal drive to push yourself like that is special. It builds on every lesson.
Blanchette said West has always been one of his biggest supporters and is willing to work with him as often as possible. He said he also plays adult men’s game days several times a month to help him continue to be more accustomed to playing with and against bigger bodies.
As for heading to the international stage from Brentwood, Blanchette said he was going to make the most of the opportunity and continue to enjoy every moment.
“It’s going to be a big summer of travel for me, and I’m excited,” he said. “It’s getting to this point where I might peak somewhere that I don’t expect because I’m from Tennessee and I don’t have the access that these other guys have, but now it’s a little different because let’s say I’m at a tournament, and someone will come and say, ‘Oh my God, you’re the guy from Tennessee.’
“It gives me more motivation to want to be great, to keep working hard and to keep trying to achieve things like this.”
Blanchette said he hopes he can inspire others to achieve their goals as well.
“There are other paths, and you can be successful too,” he said. “So many people have told me, ‘You’re from Tennessee, you’re not going to be a professional volleyball player.’ I get told all the time why even play volleyball, why not just play basketball.
“It means so much to be here. It shows that anything can happen.”
Team USA’s U19 squad continues their pool game against Mexico on Wednesday. The Pan American Cup quarter-finals are scheduled for Thursday and the semi-finals and finals for Friday and Saturday.