Mitch Stahl makes rapid ascent

By Walter Villa

In the fall of 2008, Ray Frazer, his twin brother, Tate, and their cousin Kyle Diller kept noticing this kid at their gym in Chambersburg, Pa.

It was easy for the three volleyball players to spot Mitch Stahl. He was a 6-foot-6 eighth-grader who would soon grow to his current height of 6-8.

But for a full year, Stahl, who played basketball, resisted their efforts to get him to try volleyball.

Finally, the twins and Diller made a breakthrough.

“My cousin just gave Mitch a volleyball and said, ‘Here, hit this,’ ” Ray Frazer said. “We noticed right away that he had a natural swing for volleyball. It was like he was born for this.”

Stahl has exceeded everyone’s expectations, and then some. He recently became one of 19 players invited to compete for 12 spots on the U.S. Men’s Volleyball Junior National Team.

Stahl, a middle blocker, and the 18 other players will travel to Colorado Springs, Colo., for a two-week training camp in August.

Stahl said he was at a study hall at Chambersburg High (Chambersburg, Pa.) when he found out the news. Since he was still at school, he was unable to call his mother and texted her instead.

“I was pretty excited,” he said. “I saw my number (on the USA Volleyball website), and I got a big smile on my face.

“Now I can work on representing my country, which would be one of the biggest things I could ever accomplish.”

He’s unique

What’s most stunning about the invitation extended to Stahl is that he only started playing competitive volleyball a little over two years ago -- February of 2010 to be exact.

Not only that, but of the 19 players invited to the national team training, 14 are already in college and four are high school seniors. Stahl is the only junior.

He’s also unique geographically. He’s the only Pennsylvania player on a team dominated by 10 California guys.

“My gut tells me Mitch has a really good shot at making the final roster,” said Terry Ranck, who is Stahl’s coach at Yorktowne Volleyball Club in York, Pa. “I looked at the roster and saw a total of five middles who will be competing for three, or possibly four, spots.”

If Stahl, 17, makes the final roster, he will be part of the U.S. team that will compete in the NORCECA Men’s Under-21 Continental Championships Aug. 27-Sept. 1 in Colorado Springs. The top two teams there will qualify for the 2013 FIVB Men’s Junior World Championship.

Frazer, a senior who will play for St. Francis (Pa.) next season, said he will be following Stahl’s development.

“I’m really proud of him,” Frazer said. “It’s pretty awesome to (have taught) someone volleyball and see him make the junior national (training) team.”

Frazer was referring to those early days of Stahl’s volleyball development. Before he went out for the team, Stahl practiced at a pair of church gyms with the Frazers and another family.

In February of 2010, when the high school season began, Stahl became a varsity starter as a freshman for Chambersburg coach Kirk Crouse.

By June of 2010, Stahl was a starter on the Yorktowne club team that finished in 11th place at the Junior Olympics.

“He was extremely athletic for someone so young, especially at his size,” Crouse said. “He is also very intense and hustles.

“A lot of big kids are content to just hit the ball and relax. But Mitch strives to play 100 percent. He’s interested in all facets of the game, from setting to hitting to back row.”

Recruiting gem

Stahl, who can touch 11 feet, 9 inches, is considering college offers from Penn State, Ohio State, UCLA, Pepperdine, George Mason and Loyola-Chicago.

The college he chooses, he said, will be the one that can offer him a great education, has a standout volleyball program and a coach he feels will be supportive of him throughout his career.

Stahl comes from a tall and athletic family. His mother, Lisa, who is 6-feet, played basketball at New Mexico State and said she would have played volleyball if they had let her compete in a second sport.

Stahl’s father and Lisa’s husband, Tony, is 6-5. He turned down a chance to play basketball at Penn State, Stahl said, because he wanted to start an automotive body-shop business.

Stahl, who expects to pick a school by July, has a 4.01 GPA and is interested in studying architecture, engineering or computer science.

His immediate plan, though, is to lead Chambersburg (11-1) to a deep playoff run. He still plays basketball -- he averaged 10 points and five rebounds as a junior -- but he has made it clear that his priority is volleyball.

“As soon as I picked up a volleyball, I knew it was something I was going to love,” Stahl said. “I’m a passionate guy, and I love the fact that volleyball is intense from the first serve all the way through. I love it.”