Growing up as a multi-sport athlete – both in South Korea and, later, in Winnipeg – Andy Pack has always possessed a certain amount of natural athletic ability.
Since he was a youngster, he could run, jump, kick, throw a punch, shoot a basketball; whatever the sport, he could hold his own.
So imagine his surprise when, on the first day of Earl Marriott Secondary’s senior boys volleyball tryouts earlier this fall, Pack – who had not played the sport in more than a year – couldn’t successfully complete even a simple warm-up drill.
“Oh, yeah, my first tryout for the volleyball team, it was bad,” he laughed.
“There were five or six of us, and we were working on our spiking. Every ball, I’d go up for it, and just miss it completely. It was terrible – I just could not hit it, couldn’t serve or block – all the skills I used to have were just gone.”
Luckily for Pack, the skills that had deserted him that afternoon quickly returned after a handful of practices.
Pack made the team, and was an important part of a Mariners squad that finished third in the Fraser Valley, despite having a roster of just nine players for most of the season.
This week, Earl Marriott is hitting the court at the Langley Events Centre, where senior boys AAA championships began Wednesday.
Though he is focusing solely on volleyball at the moment, Pack’s athletic career is impressive for someone just 17 years of age.
Born in Seoul, he began playing all manner of sports by the time he was seven, most notably taekwondo, where he earned a black belt by the time he was 12. Pack’s family – including an older brother and two younger twin sisters – came to Canada when he was 10, and settled in Winnipeg, where he continued to participate in whatever sports presented themselves.
“I’ve played sports my whole life – football, volleyball, basketball, boxing, taekwondo and some other martial arts, swimming,” he said, adding that he gets his athletic genes from his father, who played soccer growing up in South Korea.
“It was never too much for me, because when you’re a young kid, you don’t have any pressure in any one sport – you don’t have to focus on just one thing, you can go play them all.”
In Winnipeg, where Pack lived for four years before moving to the Semiahmoo Peninsula before Grade 11, the multi-sport star shone in the boxing ring.
Back in Seoul, Pack’s dad had originally signed him up for taekwondo to improve his strength – a way to transform Pack from what he jokingly refers to as “a skinny little kid.”
With boxing – he signed up for a program at a local community centre – he found the same sense of strength and confidence he’d once experienced in martial arts.
“I just thought I’d give it a try, but it wasn’t the smoothest start,” he laughed. “My first two years, they were a little rough.”
He admits his mother wasn’t exactly thrilled with his new sport of choice, but he never shied away from the physical nature of it.
“My mom, especially, was worried I was going to get injured, but I absolutely loved it. I just loved feeling secure, knowing you can protect yourself – and others, too – if you have to.
“It helps build your confidence, but I wasn’t learning it so I could necessarily use it. It wasn’t like in the movies where I was going to go out and beat somebody up. It was for my own satisfaction.”
Pack has put boxing on the back burner since arriving at EMS, choosing instead to focus on volleyball, which he admits is his favourite sport.
Once he shook off the early season rust, his natural talent was obvious, said Marriott head coach Dave Dooley.
“He’s very athletic and has very quick feet – which comes from boxing,” he said. “And he’s been very open to learning and he’s been patient with himself too, getting back into the sport.”
Pack said it’s the team aspect of volleyball – as opposed to taekwondo or boxing, which are individual endeavours – that draws him to the sport.
“It requires so much communication with your teammates… I had to adjust, coming from boxing. Before, you think, ‘I have to do this, or I will fail.’ But in volleyball, I can rely on my teammates,” he said. “It’s been great. Nothing beats it.”
The Mariners are the two-time defending senior boys volleyball champions at the AAA level, and their quest for a third began Wednesday with round-robin games. The tournament continues through today (Friday) and wraps up Saturday, with the gold-medal game set for 5 p.m.
Visit www.bchighschoolboysvolleyball.com for scores, schedules and more information.