For most of his career, Jared Byas has faced older players.
The most glaring experience occurred at age 8. He couldn’t find an opening on a team with kids his own age, so he ended up with a 14-year-old club team at Ultimate.
A six-year difference can be quite stark at this age, but Byas persevered.
“It was pretty cool,” he said. “I was the starting Libero. It was a big gap physically, mentally and emotionally, but it was great and it was fun. I had a great team.
“Despite the age difference, they were very welcoming and very understanding.”
However, all did not go well.
“I was so young and would have little mental breakdowns,” Byas said. “My teammates were always there for me. I always felt like I belonged.”
On the rare occasions that Byas has been able to face players his own age, he has done quite well, especially this spring.
Byas, the 2022 Daily Southtown Boys Volleyball Player of the Year, led the Griffins to second place in the state with a stellar combination of offensive and defensive skills.
Despite his size, Byas showed great jumping ability and played on offense, leading a balanced offense with 244 kills. Defensively, he made 153 digs.
His coach dug the digs as much as the hits.
“Obviously everyone knows Jared’s offensive game because of his thunderous kills,” Lincoln-Way East coach Kris Fiore said. “However, I think his defensive game sets him apart from other good outside hitters in the area.
“Jared has a unique ability to read hitters and anticipate where they’ll hit the ball. Plus, I think he’s one of the best passers in the state. Honestly, it’s like having another libero in the back row.
Byas is giving up the club this summer in order to work on his skills to prepare to play libero again.
He is committed to Missouri S&T, an NCAA Division II program that will begin play in 2023.
“It’s amazing,” he said of the new venture. “It’s a bit scary too. It’s a new program and the beginning of a team. I’m excited to build with the program.
“We have a team group chat and we’re getting to know each other.”
Byas knows his punching days are over when it comes to the college level.
“I’m going to miss the rebounds,” Byas said. “But getting a dig means a lot more than a good kill, so I’m just as excited.”
He almost missed the opportunity to play volleyball in college.
Byas dropped out of the club and was ready to make a career out of it after his last hurrah with the Griffins, but before the season started he decided to switch gears.
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From there, Fiore set out to find Byas a good candidate for the next level.
Lincoln-Way East had just finished fourth in the state in 2021 and opened this spring beating Glenbard West 22-25, 25-21, 25-23 in a thrilling match.
The Griffins had a few misses during the regular season, but in the state playoffs they beat Marist 23-25, 25-22, 25-21 in the Sandburg Division Championship game.
Byas was on fire with 18 eliminations, helping send the team to the state finals.
Although Glenbard West got his revenge with a 25-16, 25-18 victory in the state championship game, Byas still considered the season a resounding success.
“We finished second,” he said. “But we played hard and did what we were supposed to do, and that’s all we could ask for.”
Jeff Vorva is a freelance journalist for the Daily Southtown.