COUNCIL BLUFFS — Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln volleyball coach Katie Darrington knows the team’s program doesn’t do Liam Lutz justice.
He’s listed as a manager, and while that’s technically true, it’s not an accurate representation of the role he’s played this season.
“He’s more like a graduate assistant,” Darrington said with a laugh. “But he’s only a freshman.”
At 6-foot-2 with long arms and a spring in his step, Lutz looks natural on a volleyball court. But when he’s sitting on the bench during matches, he generally goes unnoticed by opponents.
Though he’s always cheering for his teammates, coaching from the sideline and arguing calls, it’s only when he sneaks a powerful hit during warmups that he might get their attention.
The girls on his team, however, are never surprised to see what he can do. They experience it every day.
Mild-mannered but ultra competitive, Lutz isn’t just a volleyball enthusiast. He’s a skilled player — and a secret ingredient to the Lynx’s success, hiding in plain sight.
Lutz can’t play in matches, but the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union’s policy allows boys to participate in girls’ practices, as long as the school district approves.
That’s given him an opportunity to prepare for a future in college volleyball while giving the Lynx an advantage they haven’t had recently.
“He’s been huge for us,” Darrington said. “He can put up that big block. He can be that big kill. He’s our Des Moines player that we need to simulate that height.
“And he’s completely embraced that.”
Darrington became aware of Liam last summer when his parents, Dustin and Wendy, asked if he could participate in camp with his older sister Zoe.
She was happy to let him play, and after getting to know the family during Zoe’s freshman year, she encouraged him to come to open gyms in the spring and, eventually, join the team.
Lutz, who started playing volleyball for his dad at the Council Bluffs YMCA when he was younger, already had two years of club ball under his belt.
But he’ll admit that playing against older girls was an intimidating prospect.
“At first, it was a little scary, because some of them are juniors and seniors, and I was just, like, an eighth-grader,” said Lutz, 14. “Once they started hitting really hard, I got a little scared and was a little nervous, and I thought about not doing it anymore, but I had some support from my parents and I’m so glad I kept doing it.”
Initially shy, Lutz became more comfortable over the summer. By the time the season rolled around, he was just another member of the team. Now he’s an integral part of Abraham Lincoln’s best season in four years.
After losing several seniors to graduation but retaining enough young talent to be optimistic, the Lynx entered the fall with a “Why not us?” attitude.
They’ve exceeded expectations. At 30-9, only four Class 5-A teams have tallied as many wins and only Class 4-A No. 1 Sergeant Bluff-Luton was able to top Abraham Lincoln in Missouri River Conference play.
Heading into next week’s regionals, the 11th-ranked Lynx lead Class 5-A in kills per set (12.84), digs per set (22.28) and blocks per set (4.11), despite only one player listed at 6-foot.
Darrington always thought the pieces were in place for this kind of performance, but she said that Lutz’s presence and skill has made the team more prepared.
“I think it’s made the girls be smarter in their attacks, because if you come anywhere near him, he’s going to stuff ’em, swat ’em right down,” she said.
Said Zoe Lutz: “He kind of, like, represents the best hitters in Iowa, because he just jumps so freaking high and he hits so hard and can hit every spot, and he can block everything.”
He also has helped bring out the best in junior and kills leader Elaina Bohnet. She’s averaging the third-most kills per set in 5-A (4.33) while hitting a career-best .316.
“My coach noticed that I’m getting better at tooling,” said Bohnet. “It was probably the biggest weakness of mine last year.
“Against Glenwood, my first, like, four kills were off tools. I’m going to have to credit that to Liam.”
Lutz and Bohnet, whose older sister Samantha plays for Creighton, have developed a friendly rivalry that involves a lot of banter and one-upmanship.
“The first practice we had, I blocked her like, five times in a row,” Lutz said. “She just got so mad, so it’s been my goal this season to block her every time.”
Said Bohnet: “Of course he said that. I don’t remember, but it sounds like something he’d definitely say.”
It’s like this on a daily basis as 15 girls co-exist and compete with one boy, all pushing each other to reach their goals and potential.
“They’re all friends,” Darrington said. “They just come in and do what they need to do, and it’s made us better. So in return, I hope we can make him better, and he can get a college scholarship.
“He hits so hard now, I don’t know what he’ll do when he’s a senior.”