By Spencer Sweetin
Every foundation has a base – something that holds it in place so it does not give way. To the McKendree men’s and women’s volleyball teams, that base is Ben Duckworth. Assistant coach to Nickie Sanlin, Duckworth brings a sizeable amount of volleyball knowledge to the program from coaching the St. Louis High Performance Volleyball Club since 2006. The expertise that he brought has strengthened me and my teammate’s talents greatly.
Duckworth started playing volleyball at the age of 15 at the suggestion of a senior varsity men’s volleyball team player at Oakville Senior High School. He told him to play on a club team so he could start playing at a more competitive level. Little did that senior know that Ben would go on to be player of the year in Missouri his senior year and receive the All Conference title his senior year of college at Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne.
Most are unaware of how Ben’s success influenced the life of his younger brother, Jake Duckworth who is currently playing for the Lindenwood Lions in his sophomore year. When asked about this, Ben said, “I never told Jake that he had to play volleyball. The drive to play the sport was from coming to all my games in high school and college. I mean, when he was thirteen and I was in the Final Four, he was peppering (a warm up in volleyball including two individuals) between matches with All Americans. The drive to play volleyball was being subconsciously instilled in him.”
Onto the more important question, who is better? “You know, I’ll go ahead and be that guy and say that I’m better. However, I’d also say that we are two very different players in many aspects”.
The Duckworths both played volleyball in St. Louis but in two different eras of the sport. I asked Ben to comment on how things have changed since he played. “While I’ll say the number of high quality players has dropped since then, the sport is much bigger now. I’ll also say that private schools used to dominate everyone else, and now that has shifted within the past three years to public schools”.
All this talk of St. Louis begs the question of how Duckworth came into contact with McKendree University. Nickie Sanlin, the head men’s and women’s volleyball coach, knew Ben prior to being associated with McKendree through the St. Louis High Performance Volleyball Club. High Performance is a massive club with two travel teams per age group (thirteen to eighteen years old) and around five regionals teams per year. But Sanlin still picked Duckworth out among all those prospective assistant coach candidates. Duckworth said he got to know her much better from the tightly knit high-level adult volleyball community that is in St. Louis. The community of adults that Duckworth refers to only pick people that are related to High Performance and can compete at a high level of play. The two frequently talked at those small event days, and Sanlin found a great respect for Ben’s knowledge of the game.
Sanlin and Duckworth teamed up to conquer the MIVA conference with the men and the GLVC conference with the women. Duckworth plays a key leadership role in making both teams run smoothly, and without Duck, the players would have no one to follow.