For Joe Joe Herman, playing three sports every year has been part of his routine for a very long time. For most of his life, however, volleyball wasn’t one of those sports.
“I actually never wanted to play volleyball. My dad played in high school and he always tried to get my brother and I to play volleyball, and we always made fun of him because we always told him it was a girly sport,” Herman said.
Eventually, Herman and his brother acquiesced to their dad’s wish and began playing volleyball in the spring instead of baseball. While volleyball may not have been Herman’s first love, his future coach noticed his talent immediately.
“I actually saw him play in a middle school volleyball game and he just went up and put a ball down on the 10-foot line,” Whitehall coach George Cowitch said. “I just thought ‘Oh my god, thank god we’re getting this kid one day.’ Then right there, I knew this guy could be special one day, and he ended up being that.”
Herman’s ability to get kills at will allowed him to start at Whitehall for all four years, two at middle hitter, two at outside hitter.
With the help of Herman’s tenacious attack at the net, the Zephyrs had a remarkable season going undefeated in league play and capturing both Eastern Pennsylvania Conference and District 11 titles. For that reason, Herman is the lehighvalleylive Boys Volleyball Player of the Year.
While he was a contributor each of his four years at Whitehall, Herman excelled when allowed to move from inside to outside.
“Once we moved him outside, that’s where he really took off because naturally I think he was made to play outside hitter,” Cowitch said. “He had to relearn some things and work even harder, but once we moved him out there, there was no stopping that kid.”
For Herman, the move eventually paid off in a big way as he tallied 430 kills this season, but the position switch came with a serious learning curve.
“The transition was very hard, Coach Cowitch said that he loved to watch me struggle and literally every single day I would struggle, and I would get so mad and upset,” Herman said. “But I would always keep my head high and keep working … Once I got over that hump it was really easy and I liked playing outside because you get more sets and can make more of an impact.”
Cowitch also demanded another type of change from Herman, asking him to take step out of his comfort zone and take more of a leadership role in his senior season.
“In the offseason I talked to him a lot about becoming a leader,” Cowitch said. “He’s not the most vocal kid in the world but … those guys, they looked up to him and they listened. He led
the right way, which is important. I think that’s why we only dropped five sets in the regular season.”
With Herman taking the lead for Whitehall on and off the court, the Zephyrs improved from a 19-5 record in 2018 to a 24-1 record this season. Whitehall dominated the EPC, losing just five sets in 23 matches against league opponents.
The humble senior was quick to point out that he couldn’t have taken his team to a championship level all by himself.
“All the other seniors, they all stepped up and were there all through the winter sessions and open gyms to help the underclassmen. That helped us because a lot of them played and without them we wouldn’t have been as successful as we were,” Herman said.
While Whitehall rolled through league play to capture league and district titles with an unblemished record, the Zephyrs and Herman, in particular, struggled when they reached the PIAA Class 3A quarterfinals.
After blowing out Philadelphia Central in the opening round of the state tournament, the Zephyrs took on powerhouse Northeastern. The Bobcats won the last six state championships in the 2A bracket before entering this season as a favorite to win the 3A title.
“He was pretty sick to start that match and I didn’t know until we got there, and he walked in and I had to ask him if he was alright to play because he didn’t look too good,” Cowitch said. “Most guys would have just not played well and packed it in and I think he had 16 or 17 kills against arguably one of the best teams in the state of Pennsylvania.”
The match started as one might expect when playing against a state powerhouse with your best player sick. Whitehall dropped the opening two sets 25-17. The Zephyrs, however, rallied to win the next two sets 25-22 before losing the decisive fifth set 15-9.
“I threw up twice before the game … so I was drained, but the crowd got me up and my teammates kept me up throughout the whole game and I gave it my best,” Herman said. “I can’t be upset about that game. It was just two good teams going at it, but they were the better team that day.”
While the tough loss ended Herman’s athletic career at Whitehall, his coach believes that the environment he created could help the Zephyrs be successful for years to come.
“Just the way he treats the underclassmen, it doesn’t matter to him if you’re a freshman, sophomore, whatever, it was a family thing for him. The way he takes care of the kids to show them that they could be like him one day, I think that’s the coolest part about him.”
Herman will continue to play multiple sports at the next level as he will join the football and volleyball team at King’s College. Unsurprisingly, Herman has set lofty goals for the next step of his athletic career.
“I would like to start my freshman year for both sports, and I just want to contribute to my team as much as I can … sports-wise I want to try be the top player and work my tail off."