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Hart boys volleyball's Tanner Tengberg, Breaking through

Hart’s Tanner Tengberg was tired of being lost in the shuffle

Posted: April 8, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: April 8, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Hart senior Tanner Tengberg will play for Ohio State University next season as a walk-on before going on a two-year Mormon mission. He hopes to return to Ohio State and resume his volleyball career.

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At a certain point, Tanner Tengberg realized he was just another face in the crowd.

Or at least that’s how he saw it.

Right around the end of his sophomore year of high school, Tengberg, now a senior outside hitter for Hart volleyball, had an epiphany.

He knew that if he wanted to continue his volleyball career beyond high school, no one was going to notice another 6-foot-5 hitter who described himself as lanky.

Tengberg knew he was going to have to separate himself from the crowd.

“I’m not 6-11, I don’t jump 40 inches, so it came down to my own work ethic,” Tengberg says. “So I just decided to work hard.”

A couple years later, that lanky kid has added bulk through weight lifting and become one of the best offensive threats in the Foothill League.

And three weeks ago, he committed to play for Ohio State University, fulfilling a longtime dream of his to play volleyball at an NCAA Division I school.

Not just any school, either. Ohio State won the 2011 NCAA championship and has appeared in 17 NCAA national tournaments since 1975.

Tengberg will join the team as a walk-on next season, but he hopes to play his way into a scholarship within the next few years.

His plan is to spend a year with the team before going on a two-year mission trip, as is the standard for the Mormon faith.

After that, he’ll resume his education and his athletic eligibility at Ohio State.

One former Division I volleyball coach who trains Tengberg privately said he thinks the senior is capable of doing big things in college.

“He’s got the size and explosiveness,” says Walt Ker, owner and personal trainer at Legacy Volleyball Club. “There are enough anatomical and physiological gifts for him to be able to play and be successful at the Ohio State level, which is a very high level.”

That’s coming from the former head coach of Cal State Northridge’s men’s volleyball team. Ker has trained Tengberg privately for the past year. Nearly every Saturday morning, whether during the season or not, Ker has met with Tengberg at 7:30 a.m. for a practice session.

It’s one of the many things Tengberg has done to improve his skills and bring his game to the next level.

“How many teenage boys are going to do that?” Ker says. “Most of them are out so darn late on Friday night, they’re not going to have any interest in waking up at the crack of dawn.”

But Tengberg’s go-the-exta-mile mentality is nothing new. It was ingrained in him at an early age that putting forth extra effort in any part of life gets rewarded.

“My dad always taught me that some things are God given, some things are earned,” Tengberg says. “And you can only get out of it what you put in.”

Through the years, that principle translated onto the court.

“From my perspective, sports is a metaphor for life, if you will,” says J.D. Tengberg, Tanner’s father. “It’s basically practice for when you grow up in the real world. ... in sports, everything doesn’t always go your way. As a result, you’ve got to learn how to deal with that.”

For Tanner, it was a fitting analogy.

He began playing volleyball at various recreational and city leagues when he was 11, then joined Legacy when it opened its doors in 2008.

Right off the bat, his club coaches saw the potential with his height, athleticism and arm strength. His skills earned him a spot on Hart’s varsity team as a sophomore, but Tanner’s Achilles’ heel was consistency, which may have been attributed to his psychological approach to the game.

“There were a lot of mental habits we had to beak down with him learning to calm down when it was time to calm down and when to get excited when it’s time to get excited,” says Hart volleyball head coach Kevin Ker of Tanner.

But just like everything else in his life, Tanner worked at it. He put in rep after rep and hour after hour of practice.

In between volleyball, he attends various church events, youth leadership sessions and seminary in the mornings before school. In November 2011, he pitched in to help build a homeless shelter for his Eagle Scout project.

“He’s made all these decisions himself,” J.D. says. “He’s the one who gets up at five in the morning for early morning seminary. It’s not us forcing him to do that.”

The truth is, beyond his 3.95 GPA and his athletic skills, those are the small things that set him apart from the crowd.

“It’s hard to teach that kind of mind set to someone,” Kevin Ker says. “Like, ‘Hey, you really have to want this.’”

For Tanner Tengberg, it’s just part of who he is.

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