Ryan Duross went up for an attack from the far left side and viciously spiked a ball crosscourt that hit an opposing player’s face, delivering a thud. Even when the Christopher High boys volleyball team was outgunned against Mitty in a Central Coast Section Division II playoff quarterfinal on June 1, Duross delivered some serious kills in defeat.
The 6-foot-4 outside hitter and incoming senior has made life dangerous for opposing players across the net, what with his ability to hit the ball at such high speeds that even defenders with quick reactions can be left flat-footed. As a freshman, Duross was a standout, yet still in need of a lot of refinement to his game. Since then, the Ohio State commit has improved in such a dramatic fashion that it’s left even the Christopher coaching staff a little awestruck.
“From the point we got shut down last year (March 2020) to the start of this year, his game is like night and day,” Cougars coach Kevin Bruce said. “Basically, he’s another player.”
Duross’ value to the team was in plain sight this season. The Cougars (5-4) split two matches with San Benito, winning the first contest 3-0 before getting swept in three straight in the rematch. The difference? Duross was there for the first match but not the second due to a club tournament in Las Vegas.
“Having him helps cover any gaps we have,” Bruce said. “If we need it, he’s always there to get us our kills. More than that, he’s a leader.”
Indeed, one of Duross’ goals for the high school season was to elevate his teammates’ play by encouraging and directing them as often as necessary.
“I took this season as a coaching experience for me because a lot of club volleyball players end up coaching,” he said.
The recently completed season was unique for Duross because he pulled double duty playing for Christopher and traveling program Bay to Bay at the same time. The club season is usually played in the fall but switched seasons due to Covid.
“It was very tiring, but at the same time a pretty cool experience going back and forth between the high level club team and our high school team which had seven people,” he said. “It was a good push for me to open my eyes to different experiences, and I got to see how it’s like to coach and help all the players.”
At the high school level, players in any sport who are at a level above their teammates oftentimes can show visible frustration which negatively affects the team’s play. But the mature players display patience which maximizes a team’s potential.
“It’s really hard for some of the newer kids to play the higher level teams like Mitty, so it’s really important for me to make sure everyone is having fun and keeps on pushing,” he said.
Said Bruce: “There was only one game (during the season) when he had any sign of being down, and that’s because he was physically exhausted from his club tournament the weekend before.”
Even though Duross can drop jaws with his vertical leap and ability to terminate the ball, he is equally adept at reading the angle of the block, hitting finesse shots, passing well and stuffing an attack as a blocker. For the level Duross is at, it’s somewhat stunning to know he only took up the game at age 12. He played other sports prior to that; however, volleyball quickly became his No. 1 sport.
“My sister played volleyball and that’s how I got into it,” he said. “I messed around with the ball when she was at practice, and that drove me to play more.”
Duross made a verbal commitment to Ohio State early in his junior year, noting the coaching staff made it crystal clear they wanted him to be a Buckeye. On a Zoom call, the coaches walked around the huge Columbus campus and gave Duross a tour of all the facilities.
“No one else went to that extent and it just really showed they cared,” he said.
Duross knows he’ll have to continue to develop and make adjustments once he plays at the Division I level. In most high school matches, Duross stands above—literally and figuratively—his opponents. But once he suits up for Ohio State, he’ll be on the shorter side as middle blockers tend to be in the 6-foot-5 to 6-foot-9 range.
“The whole thing with me being shorter once I get to college is I have to play a lot faster,” he said. “The sets go a lot quicker and I have to move a lot faster and jump higher. The shorter you are, the faster you have to go. It’s all about timing and keeping the other team off their rhythm.”
For now, Duross would love nothing more than for the Cougars to go on a deep run in the CCS playoffs next year. He’ll definitely have reinforcements as Bruce said fellow Bay to Bay member Kai Rodriguez is expected to play along with a couple of players off the basketball team that didn’t get to play this season because of the district’s one sport per season rule.