Playing volleyball was the furthest thing from Tyler Knoop’s mind two years ago, as he lay in a hospital bed with abdominal pain.
Doctors weren’t sure exactly what was wrong with Governor Mifflin’s then 6-foot freshman Knoop, and why he had dropped from 140 to 109 pounds in less than a month.
Now at 6-2, a healthy weight and undergoing treatment for Crohn’s disease, he can’t forget those days or the support of his coach, Ryan Stubler.
“He means the most to me,” Knoop said. “From the moment I walked into this hospital to the moment I walked out of it today, he has been by my side texting me, calling me, being a leader and a friend. C is all you can ask of a coach.
Stubler, then an assistant coach and now in his second season as head coach, saw something in Knoop and several of his classmates three years ago when he held gyms open and selected them. to be the future of Governor Mifflin’s boys’ volleyball.
Stubler’s vision came to fruition on Saturday night when the Mustangs beat Wilson 3-1 (25-23, 23-25, 25-23, 25-19) to claim their first BCIAA championship in six years.
“I started them at a young age,” he said. “The work we have done over the past three years is so good that it is paying off with a win for them. I don’t care about myself. I wanted this so badly for them.
Knoop and fellow juniors Aidan Young and Jonathyn Ebling praised Stubler, 29, for guiding the Mustangs (14-4), motivating and supporting them.
“I had never played volleyball before,” Young said of those eighth-grade days. “He would have gyms open. I don’t know why, but I showed up for one. And then three years later, we are county champions.
“I want to thank Stubler for everything because it was Stubler all the way.”
Young, an outside hitter, had 18 kills, four digs and an ace in the championship game and Knoop, a middle hitter, had 12 kills, two blocks and four aces a year after carrying an ostomy bag during practices and games and underwent what he called minor surgeries.
“I got a text from Mr. Davis (former Mifflin coach Matt Davis) after our semi-final game to remind me what Tyler went through,” Stubler said. “It was Tyler’s birthday. Seeing this kid healthy, being able to play, do the job he did and prove himself on the pitch means everything to me.
Knoop dominated Game 3 against Wilson (11-7), scoring four consecutive Mifflin points during a decisive streak, then putting away the winning run.
“When Tyler was in eighth grade, I thought, ‘This kid is going to be crazy,'” Stubler recalled. “He was an athlete. He had a very natural gift for volleyball.
Like Young, Knoop had never played volleyball outside at Shillington Pool until those gyms opened three years ago.
“I remember thinking, ‘Oh, this will be fun to do,’ kind of like a joke,” Knoop said. “He (Stubler) just motivated me. After the first day, he pulled me aside and said, ‘You’re going to be a very good player. I want you to keep coming.
“I kept going back and forth. Eventually it became routine.”
As he did for Young, Jeremiah Aulenbach, Josh Wert, Aidan Kohl and eventually Ebling, friends who became the core of the team that has no seniors.
“I started coming to open gyms because of Tyler Knoop and Aidan Kohl,” Ebling said. “They introduced me to Coach Stubler and I really liked him. We got on well. He picked people he thought were going to be county champions like us.
Ebling, a skilled passer, had 43 assists against Wilson, Aulenbach had six kills and five blocks, and Wert had five kills, five digs and an ace.
Stubler, a former Mifflin starter, said camaraderie was a big factor in picking players three years ago.
“I’ve known everyone from college since we were little,” Knoop said. “Volleyball has brought us even closer.”
Mifflin’s nine juniors overcame the loss of their first season to the pandemic and saw one of their friends deal with serious illness. Knoop receives an injection every six weeks to control his Crohn’s disease and maintains a normal diet.
Two years ago, he couldn’t dream of playing a starring role on a championship volleyball team.
Stubler, however, started dreaming three years ago.
“I really care about these kids very much,” he said. “That’s when I can get emotional about things.”