Dave Hancock steps outside his apartment at 5:20pm and heads to practice. The 6’7” middle blocker/opposite is in his third season abroad, competing for VK Kladno in the top league in the Czech Republic. The team has started to build some momentum in the second half of the season, currently sitting in 4th place in the standings with 9 matches remaining.
The European professional league is a similar system to the MLB Minor Leagues where you have the MLB, AAA, AA, A, and each season brings an opportunity to move up to a better league. The regular season begins in early October, and will finish in early March with each team playing each other twice, once home and once away. Playoffs begin right after the regular season ends, and run through the end of April. We are .
In Dave’s first season abroad, he competed for TV Bliesen in the small town of Bliesen, Germany. The team won championship of the third league that year and moved up to the second league. Dave remained for another season, which happened to be when the pandemic hit. The team’s success was diminished in the second year with tough results, losing players to injuries, and other work related reasons. However, after a strong performance all season, Dave was voted 3rd best player in the league.
“The season of 2020-2021 was a huge challenge personally. With tight lockdowns, and extreme travel restrictions in Germany, it made the season very tough. Being an athlete overseas can be very lonely, with coronavirus on top of that, it made things even more difficult. Luckily, through the season I had a few great teammates that weathered the storm. I also learned how difficult it is to play volleyball with no spectators.“
Hancock is pictured in the middle attacking the ball
Dave is no stranger to change or a challenge. At the age of 17 he decided to stop playing baseball. He still wanted to train and compete in sports, so he considered volleyball.
“My younger brother at the time had finished his first year of seventh grade volleyball. I was tall, relatively athletic, so I decided to give it a go,” states Dave.
Now at 26 years old, Dave distinctly remembers his friends teaching him all about rotations during physics class prior to school tryouts. As a junior in high school, he had a ways to go to catch up to the other boys who’d been playing age 12.
Dave immediately enjoyed the unique aspects of precision, technique with power, and speed that volleyball provides to an eager volleyball beginner. The emotional highs and lows from set to set, and experiencing the excitement and challenges with a team made the sport so fun for Dave from the beginning.
“As with most team sports, a team that isn’t quite as talented or physical as other teams, can be very successful when the individuals on a team accept and commit to their roles. The feeling of playing and winning as a team, and succeeding at my role for the team is something that I had never experienced in any of the other sports I grew up playing,” adds Dave.
His first years of volleyball were full of learning. During his first season, Dave was the third or fourth outside on the high school Varsity team. Oak Park River Forest had a very experienced and talented senior class. The team made it to state, losing in the first round 25-23, 28-30, 13-15.
“Although I didn’t step onto the court once, I remember walking away from the match absolutely drained from cheering on my teammates.”
After a successful senior year, Dave attended Purdue University and competed for the men’s club team. The first couple of months, he trained as an outside hitter and then moved to opposite. After being on the bench most of his freshman year, he finally made the move to middle blocker and became a starter during his sophomore year. Dave was named First Team Big 10 during his final two seasons, as well as First Team All-American.
Hancock pictured in the middle holding the trophy
During his time at Purdue Dave was also a practice player with the Purdue Women’s Varsity team, a nationally top ranked program. He soaked up the training and technique he received from being in the gym with Dave and John Shondell, and the gritty gym culture of Purdue volleyball.
“I was able to develop middle footwork and quickness in the gym, as well as absorb a lot of the technical feedback from the coaching staff to the female players. I used all of the repetitions and absorbed the information, allowing me to develop further in college. Just because a coach isn’t directly coaching to you, listening and absorbing all of the information can be valuable to your career.”
Directly out of college, Dave began playing for the Icemen in the Volleyball League of America. He values these stepping stones that have helped him to get to the point in his playing career where he is today.
Dave also credits his dad who always managed to make an impact through the many years he competed in baseball, basketball, soccer and football, as his coach and mentor. His dad was an alternate for the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo for doubles Luge, as well as a baseball and tennis player in College at SUNY Brockport State.
“We always joke that I ended up playing sports that he was unfamiliar with, like volleyball and golf. Whether it be fundamentals, mental aspects of both sports, or how to be a good teammate, he taught and showed me how to be a competitor. I really value those lessons and am reminded constantly of the impact that he has on my life,” shares Dave.
Aside from his love for volleyball, you can find Dave enjoying his other passions like cooking for a group of friends, playing golf when he’s home in the summer between seasons, and backpacking/camping outdoors when the opportunity presents itself.
The Chicago Icemen will look to defend their league championship when they kick off the 2022 season January 15/16th in Fort Wayne, Indiana. You can watch the live stream or replay of every match at the Volleyball League of America Youtube page.