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Saugus volleyball's Tony Balzer: Out of nowhere

Saugus’ Balzer wasn’t expecting this much attention coming into the year

Posted: March 29, 2013 9:01 p.m.
Updated: March 29, 2013 9:01 p.m.

Saugus volleyball's Tony Balzer has quietly become one of the Centurions' biggest offensive threats this season. The attention he's received since the start of Foothill League play was unexpected to the senior opposite. Photo by Jonathan Pobre



Tony Balzer’s game has blossomed so quickly, he’s almost overwhelmed by the sudden attention.

The once quiet role player on Saugus’ volleyball team suddenly finds himself as one of the team’s best hitters.

Balzer, a senior opposite, helped the Centurions end the Valencia Vikings’ historic 112-match Foothill League win streak by winning 3-1 in the league opener on March 21.

“It’s coming at me a little bit too fast. I got there to practice and they were like, ‘Tony, you’ve got a photo shoot.’ I got interviewed after the (Valencia match), I didn’t really expect that,” Balzer says. “I don’t really expect much. I just expect my team to do really well and that’s it.”

All this publicity for a guy who hadn’t even laid hands on a volleyball until two years ago.

On top of that Balzer played for a club team just once this past season, whereas most varsity players in this league participate in club competition throughout junior high and high school.

But then again, that’s part of what makes a player like Balzer tough to defend. He’s the dark horse and the unexpected contributor on the underdog team.

“We just told him and told the whole team what the plan was (for this season),” said Saugus head coach Barry Nua. “We wanted to come out and be that team without just one guy.”

Nua recognized the importance of finding an extra option on the offensive end after the graduation of All-Foothill players Matt Coleman and Colby Wilson.

The obvious replacement at outside hitter was junior Max Nua, who was a big contributor last year.

From there, Saugus turned to Balzer, the 5-foot-11 left-handed hitter who fits perfectly into the opposite position on the right side of the net.

“We made a conscious decision to get everybody else involved because we knew teams would game plan for Max,” Barry Nua says.

So the plan was set into motion last summer. Balzer was being groomed for a starting position and given a chance to be an equal hitting threat to Max Nua.

The two of them have become option 1A and 1B on the team as they are nearly dead even in total kills.

Nua has 133 to Balzer’s 128 in 21 matches.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen many people progress as quickly as he does,” Max says of his teammate. “He picks it up so quickly.”

When the team started training together in the offseason, the offense easily started to find a rhythm with Max Nua and Balzer working together the same way they did two years prior on the junior varsity team.

Balzer clearly had the ability from the get-go. Though at 5-11, he’s an undersized hitter compared to the rest of the league, but he makes up for it with extraordinary jumping ability.

He’s got a powerful and accurate arm swing which has allowed him to hit at an impressive .335 rate.

For Balzer, the only thing he had to learn to do was take charge.

“This year, I know I have to be way more aggressive because as one of the leaders, you have to pull the team through and the only way to do that is to be more talkative, be more positive and maybe call for the ball,” Balzer says.

In other words, Balzer had to learn how to be selfish.

Coach Nua said at one point he had to remind Balzer to be more willing to call for the ball because he was almost too willing to share it.

“At the start, I could see he knew there was pressure on him,” Max Nua says. “But he stepped into it really well and he just made it look easy.”

But others in the league didn’t know much about the supporting cast around Max. A poll of the league’s coaches voted Saugus to finish in fourth place in the Foothill.

Saugus’ collective response to that seems to be, “We’ll see about that.”

Little did many know, Saugus showed up this season with emerging talents like Balzer waiting in the wings.

He came in as perhaps the league’s best-kept secret.

Well, at least he was.





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