Apr. 7—Last spring was not a pleasant one for Chase Sturz, his Exeter volleyball teammates or his family.
For a long time, Sturz and his teammates had pointed to 2020 as their year to contend for Berks, District 3 and PIAA championships. COVID-19, of course, disrupted those hopes, forcing all high school spring sports to be canceled.
Sturz had another concern. His mother, Patty Bell, was immunocompromised after she fought breast cancer in 2019. Doctors told her she had a 1-in-3 chance to die if she contracted the coronavirus.
His worry over his mother's health and his frustration over losing a season were much for Sturz to bear. He considered not playing this year, his senior season.
"I had it in my head that it (his volleyball career) was over," he said. "My mom's safety and everything played into it. I've had so many disappointments. I didn't want to go into this season and get shut down again.
"I made the right decision to play."
With Sturz leading the way, Exeter is the favorite to win the Berks League title. He had 19 kills in a 3-2 victory over Gov. Mifflin in a league opener Tuesday.
He's 5-10 — not tall for an outside hitter — and has been a starter for the Eagles since his freshman year.
"He's a blue-collar kid all the way," Exeter coach Shawn Ganter said. "He's done everything for us. He was a defensive specialist. He was a libero. He even set a little bit during the club season. The only thing he hasn't done is play middle.
"Whatever comes up, he's good to go. You don't have to ask him twice. He's not unsure of himself. He's 100% into whatever you need him to do."
Sturz began playing volleyball in seventh grade with Reese Ganter, Tyler Goldsborough, Luke Hoffman and Ryan Miller, who were all a year ahead of him in school.
The Eagles won back-to-back Berks championships in Sturz's first two years on the varsity. Two years ago, Reese Ganter, Goldsborough and Hoffman all made the All-Berks team as juniors.
They were loaded with talent and experience last year, which is why they were crushed when the season was canceled.
"I think we would have been the top team in the state," Sturz said unabashedly. "We've just been playing together for so long. We had a lot of big guys."
His mother's health continued to weigh on his mind a year ago. He did everything he could not to expose her to the coronavirus. That extreme caution went on until Bell was vaccinated earlier this year. It helped ease Sturz's mind and his decision.
"She said she'd be good with anything I wanted to do," he said. "If I wanted to play, she said she'd help me find a way. She had recovered. It was getting a lot safer (regarding COVID). I also realized I didn't want to miss out on one last opportunity to play."
This will be Sturz's final volleyball season. He will not enroll in college. He plans to enter the workforce after graduation and seek an apprenticeship to become a lineman, like his father, Rick.
"He's just been in it forever," Sturz said. "I don't know if I'm going to work for him, but I'm going to work in that field."
Shawn Ganter is glad that Sturz decided to play this year. Ganter said it's one of the biggest reasons why he decided to continue coaching.
"He's pretty dominant for his size," Ganter said. "We've had teams stack the block against him and it doesn't even affect him. He'll hit around it, through it or over it and not think twice. That's all his experience.
"We would be significantly weaker without him. He's the rock. If something needs to get done, he's going to get it done."