It’s a figurative family for Bensalem volleyball

MEGAN BADGER / WIRE PHOTO
The Bensalem High School men’s volleyball team lost 3–1 against Abington High on May 8. Shown are Rahul Patel (№23) and Shawn Shaji.

By Mike Gibson

For the Wire

Pick up a program at any Bensalem High School boys’ volleyball match and you are likely to do a double take.

Or a triple take.

The Owls don’t have one Patel on the team. They have six.

Two Ronaks, a Rahul, a Shiv, a Shivam (name sounds the same, but those are two guys) and a Parth Patel.

That’s six and counting, but here’s the kicker: None are related.

“That is correct, none of us are related,” said Rahul, a senior co-captain. “It’s just a common name at our high school and, yes, we all get along.”

While you can’t technically call the Owls one big happy family, it’s a figurative one. They are getting along quite well despite finishing with a losing record and the bond extends beyond the surnames.

“I’m actually very proud of the team for how much we accomplished,” said Karan Rao, the other senior. “The spirit on this team is among the best I’ve ever been on and that’s in any sport.”

Rao should know.

He was the starting quarterback on the junior varsity football team before making the commitment to volleyball. He has committed to Millersville University and intends on playing volleyball there while pursuing a degree in secondary education.

“He’s our senior leader and our best player,” said first-year head coach Tim Linehan, who teaches in the district at Snyder Middle School. “He’s an outside hitter and the only player who came into the year with any varsity experience.”

In a five-set win over visiting Abington on Friday, May 3, Rao had the game-winning spike.

Well, you could call it a spike but he doesn’t.

“I kind of went up for the spike, but I saw at the last moment that I had the opportunity to put the ball (softly) where nobody else was and I did that,” Rao said. “That’s one of the things I like the most about volleyball. It’s a cerebral sport.

“Football takes more of a physical toll on your body. Mentally, you have to be quicker in volleyball. It’s more of a gentleman’s sport.

“If you go up and spike that ball where someone else might be, you don’t know what’s going to happen and they might get it and extend the match but sometimes you just have to take what’s there and that’s what I did.”

Afterward, the Owls erupted just like they had won the Suburban One National Conference championship.

“We were celebrating like crazy,” Rao said. “We work hard and we put in the work and days like that make it all worthwhile.

“We understand what we’re up against. The Pennsburys and the Neshaminys and the Council Rocks have been together for four years and in addition to that have intramurals two or three times a week in the offseason. We started in March and most of our guys are new to the sport.

“We have a new coach and I guess part of being captain is just to help the guys on the court develop as fast as they can and the progress we’ve made really makes me feel we’re accomplishing that and that’s rewarding.”

For his part, Linehan, who also coaches the girls’ team at Paul VI in South Jersey, has noticed the progress as well.

“Our spirits are up,” he said. “We’re in a real competitive league and we had a competitive game against Council Rock South. Even though that was a 3–1 loss, the last set was 26–24 so you see progress in a result like that.

“We have a lot of guys coming in who are new to the sport and you’ve got to teach them a whole set of skills and positioning and things like that.

“Not that the record doesn’t matter, but we’ve got a real positive attitude and I’ve got to say that’s a real good thing coming out of this season. That, and the fact that we have a lot of guys coming back for next year.”

Some of them will be named Patel, no doubt.

“They are all friends, to be honest, but the entire team is,” Linehan said. “I wasn’t here but I understand a couple of years ago, 10 of the 12 players on the team were named Patel.

“We’ve gotten to the point where we communicate by using first names.”