Dan Skilins has the kind of problem many coaches wish they had. The Bronx Science coach wants to build his program’s future all while enjoying a very promising present. And the early returns on his in-season juggling act have been most impressive.
“We’re starting to figure out where our weaknesses are, and in the past those weaknesses were just much broader and larger,” Skilins said. “But this team has really worked on fixing those weaknesses and really focusing on their strengths.”
It’s pretty easy to find the strengths on a boys volleyball team toting a 6-0 record and is already running away with the Bronx A Division after last Friday’s 25-14, 25-11 victory over Clinton. They come in the form of players such as Ethan Chen, Noah Ding, Brian Luu, Ryan Kim, Daniel Lin and a host of other talented Wolverines.
The weaknesses? They’re a little harder to spot for the casual observer, but Skilins knows where they are.
“We have … to incorporate the younger players into our system,” Skilins said. “Our future is dependent on those young guys. We have a really good core of underclassmen. Our sophomore class is very strong, but my freshman class — like any freshman class I’ve had in the past — has to learn the system and gain game experience, and they just don’t have that yet. We haven’t had a lot of opportunity to play those younger guys.”
That’s mostly due to the fact the Wolverines are currently steamrolling their way through another regular season, leaving a trail of broken opponents in their wake. Clinton is just the latest to fall victim to Bronx Science.
As usual, Chen was in the middle of it all. The brilliant junior setter recorded 15 assists while logging four digs, three service points, two kills and two aces in the Wolverines’ latest gem. Those kinds of performances have become commonplace for Chen, but it never gets old for Skilins.
“I’ve had good setters in the past, and I like training setters. But his IQ for volleyball is just off the charts,” the coach said. “He still has a high ceiling, and there is a lot he can still learn. He can still work on his blocking, and I’d like to see him jump-serving consistently and permanently by the end of the year.
“But he’s been phenomenal. He does something every day that you normally don’t see.”
But these Wolverines are by no means a one-man show. Ding, another junior, lit up Clinton for eight kills, six service points and five digs, while Luu — yet another junior — contributed seven service points and five kills.
Lin chipped in eight service points and eight digs with Kim, one of only two seniors on the team, adding five digs, five service points and three kills.
These Wolverines expect to win when they step on the court. But it’s not arrogance that pervades the Bronx Science program. It’s more a quiet confidence and iron will to win.
“In the past we’ve had teams that if they were down, they accepted that they were going to lose the game,” Skilins said. “Not this team. This team refuses to lose. It really bothers them. I really like their mental toughness a lot.”
And yes, even some of the younger players are starting to grow into bigger roles on the team. Skilins singled out sophomore Edgar Sze as one who is really coming on.
“I love the enthusiasm of the young guys because they’re starting to realize, ‘Hey, we’re pretty good. I have to work hard,’” Skilins said.
With just four regular-season division games remaining, Skilins will have his Wolverines do battle in a few tournaments against some quality competition in order to round into playoff shape. Dominating in the Bronx is all well and good, but Skilins thinks his team has the goods to make a legitimate run at the city championship.
“The willingness to focus on winning and everything that comes with it is what this team is about,” Skilins said. “We try not to do anything with complacency. That’s not a word we like to be around. We’re supposed to go on the court and take care of business and work hard on every point. But there are times we don’t work hard on every point. So we need to keep maturing as players, where you work hard on every point against every opponent.
“That’s the secret to the success. If you’re working hard, good things are going to happen.”