L-W North Volleyball's 'Mac' Attack Fueled by March Athlete of the Month McFarland
Lincoln-Way North senior volleyball standout Ryan McFarland has set a torrid pace for the Phoenix through his work setting his attackers at the net. He is recognized today as Patch's March Athlete of the Month.
When the ball goes up and the sophomore outside hitter poises to strike at the net during a Lincoln-Way North boys volleyball match, rest assured Big Brother is watching.
Ryan McFarland’s job is to feed the beast that is Lincoln-Way North’s offense—and that includes feeding the ball to his little brother, Brad, a 6-foot sophomore outside hitter and one of the Phoenix’s top attackers.
Six-one senior setter Ryan McFarland, Patch’s Athlete of the Month for March, racked up 25 assists in Lincoln-Way North’s 25-17, 25-19 victory over Waubonsie Valley in the Gold Flight championship match at the Marist Invitational. The victory followed on the heels of an equally satisfying win for the Phoenix over district rival Lincoln-Way East.
And just as Lincoln-Way North is humming along at 9-0 heading into a Thursday night showdown against defending IHSA state champ Sandburg, it goes without saying that the McFarland boys are hitting on all cylinders.
Forget that this is the first time the two have played together on the same team.
“We have a real good chemistry together because we’ve been with each other for such a long time,” Brad McFarland said. “We can really connect on the court. If something’s wrong, he knows how to fix it, and I know how to talk to him about the problems. We can solve them real easily.”
McLanguage All Their Own
Sometimes, no talking is involved. One brother simply will give the other a look. And they’ll hit on a telepathic communication wavelength.
They’ve worked to read each other’s body language.
“It’s a little different—I’m still not really used to it,” Ryan McFarland said of having his brother on the floor with him during the heat of battle. “This is first time we’ve ever played together. I like to play against him because he’s good competition, and I can talk smack to him all I want. He’s my little brother. That’s fun to do.”
Brad’s payback comes in the form of individual glory—typically more attention is focused on the game’s big hitters than the less visible passers and setters. Ryan has grown accustomed to leading his volleyball life outside the limelight during his two years playing on the varsity with the Phoenix.
“That’s true—it’s usually the hitters that get the glory,” he said. “But I’ve been a setter for six years now (since he started playing in junior high). So, I’m kind of used to that. It’s no big deal to me.”
What is a big deal to Lincoln-Way North coach Matt Lawrence is having a floor leader the caliber of Ryan McFarland running the show for the upstart Phoenix.
“Good setters are pretty level-headed guys,” Lawrence said. “They never get too high or too low. They’re just good equalizers. He’s very stable on the court. He’s very calm in pressure situations. So, he does a good job of that.
“He makes good set choices—what guys to set at certain points in a game. He loves the game of volleyball. He plays club. He plays sand volleyball. It’s just kind of an instinct you get when you play a lot of volleyball. He’s done that.”
Captain of Smart Choices
McFarland boasts a 3.0 grade point average at Lincoln-Way North. He scored 27 on the ACT. And he plans to study business/marketing at Ferris State (Mich.) next school year.
He calls on his intelligence as well as his experience to guide him on the court. His best friend, Lincoln-Way North senior captain and 6-1 middle hitter Joe Pognant, said McFarland acts like a second coach for the Phoenix. The two play together with the Ultimate Volleyball Club in the off-season.
Joseph Gustafson, Lawrence’s assistant, coaches the Ultimate club team.
“Well, I’ve been with him for all four years, and I play with him on club,” Pognant said. “So, it’s like I’m blessed with a great setter for school. Most people—when they play club—they have a very good setter. But when they come to school—not everybody plays club—so they’re not as good.
“But he plays club ball. It’s really nice having him. He makes me look good.”
Pognant stops short of buying McFarland lunch, though, for his dead-on setting work.
“He pays for me,” Pognant said, a smile crossing his face.
Lawrence is thrilled to see his players so loose and having so much fun. McFarland is the Big Brother in one, big happy volleyball family.
“He’s really, really good at setting his middles, which is a good skill to have,” Lawrence said. “Even when the pass is off the net, he can still run his middles. He’s blocking better. Those are some things he’s really improved on.
“If you can run your middle efficiently, you can get a lot of one-on-one opportunities for every hitter. Instead of hitting against two blockers, you’re hitting against one blocker—sometimes no blockers.”
McFarland’s job requires him to stack the odds like that in Lincoln-Way North’s favor. When the ball leaves his hand, more often than not his teammates soar at the net and pound it down to the floor on the other side.
That’s the sound of Big Brother at work.
Read More: Previous Patch Athlete of the Month Picks