Greg Vukets is nearing the end of three years of top quality volleyball as premier skipper for Westlake BHS.
The 17-year-old, Year 13 senior prefect and sports captain is now in the thick of exams before he cranks up the beach volleyball season. He is also a boys’ volleyball finalist for the ASB Young Sportsperson of the Year awards later this month.
Westlake BHS has a strong volleyball pedigree and the premier team, under the coaching of John Howard, is a force, winning the schools nationals this year in Palmerston North. Vukets was tournament MVP, scoring prolifically from his position as outside hitter.
He has played in the top team since Year 9 under Howard’s coaching.
“We only came third (in the Auckland premier league), so it took us a long time to figure it all out, but I guess it all clicked down at nationals,” says Vukets. He leaves school in a few weeks knowing that Westlake volleyball has plenty of depth, with 12 junior teams under the eye of teacher in charge Hamish McKerrow.
Vukets has volleyball in the blood. His father represented Canadian juniors and his mother is an experienced coach, while older sister Annalise, now on a volleyball scholarship in Canada, won the girls’ volleyball award at the 2014 YSPOTY awards.
Vukets himself says a volleyball scholarship to North America next year is an option. He is not far away from the New Zealand men’s team, and trained with them recently. As a 14-year-old, he was good enough to make the New Zealand Under-18 team.
But it is in beach volleyball that he has really made his mark this year. Vukets combined with Tauranga BC’s Daniel Kilpatrick to make the top 10 of the Under-19 beach volleyball world champs in Cyprus. The sport has also taken him to Mexico, USA, Vanuatu and Laos. There are worse lifestyles.
Vukets has already represented New Zealand at Under-17 and Under-19 level and is hungry for more.
“I think beach volleyball is my preference. It’s just two people, so you need a bit of everything. In indoor volleyball you can get away with being 6’9″ (2.06m) and able to jump high and do nothing but block,” he says. “There’s more of a pathway in beach volleyball via the Commonwealth Games and obviously it’s an Olympic sport as well. Beach is also interesting in that you don’t reach your peak until mid to late 20s. You need time to develop an understanding and mastery of the game.”
The beach volleyball season is already under way and Vukets will be throwing himself into it once exams are done. Next year there is the World Under-21 champs and the Youth Commonwealth Games.
His basketball, in which he plays shooting guard for Westlake’s First V, may become just a social sport while he pours his energy into firing the ball over the net, spiking or blocking.
By Campbell Burnes
Photo / Doug Sherring