In 5th grade Matt Harpenau was invited by the coach to try out for his school volleyball team. Standing at 5’2”, Matt was primarily a baseball player, but thanks to his cousin Missy, he got a hold of her kneepads and showed up at tryouts. After he made the team, it didn’t take long for Matt to get “the bug” and realize that playing volleyball was fun, exciting, and challenging. He started to play year round as a middle blocker for Cincinnati Attack, and never looked back.
Matt values the high level of volleyball skill required to perform at a high level.
“You can be super athletic but you still need to get repetitions in order to master footwork, timing, arm-swing, etc. Despite the high level of individual skill, you cannot win any games without working as a team. Some of my best friends are from my time playing volleyball and I continue to make new friends as I continue playing.”
Matt’s playing career continued at Elder High School where he earned First-Team All-State and Greater Catholic League Player of the Year while setting the single-season kills record at his school. His team won the Ohio State Championship in 2008 and 2010 behind Matt’s leadership.
Matt credits a lot of his success to his dad, who is his role model.
“He was always there for me to take me to practice, motivate me to go to extra training and he would do absolutely anything to help me.”
When Matt was seven years old his dad brought home two Duncan yo-yos and started to teach him tricks from his childhood. Most kids grow out of it but Matt never stopped learning new tricks and would always be prepared at volleyball events to whip out a yo-yo at any time! He quickly became known in the volleyball community for his yo-yo skills.
During the club season, the coach at Lees-McRae College saw Matt play at a regional tournament, and contacted him during his junior year of high school.
“I was super excited since I had always wanted to play volleyball in college ever since I started in the sport. I looked at other schools but Lees-McRae was unique and had a much smaller feel than some bigger schools,” says Matt.
Matt received a partial scholarship to attend Lees-McRae College, which is located in Banner Elk, North Carolina. The Division II program competes in the Conference Carolinas. At 6’9”, Matt earned 2nd Team All-Conference honors in 2012 and 2014, as well as All-Academic Team in 2014. After graduation, Matt set his sights on playing professional volleyball overseas, however, despite traveling to Europe and trying to get recruited for a team, it didn’t work out for him.
“It was tough for me when I never got picked up on an international team. After college, that was my hope and dream. However, I truly believe that everything worked out how it was supposed to.”
Shortly after, Matt had a potential opportunity to play middle blocker for Team Pineapple in the Volleyball League of America. The VLA was formed in 2019 in an effort to further develop adult volleyball in the United States. The teams feature former NCAA / NAIA Collegiate standouts and domestic as well as international professional players that have previously been competing overseas. Initially, there were no openings on the team for Matt. However, he put in time with the team by traveling four hours each way a few times per week just to practice.
“It turned out they needed a middle blocker for a tournament and thankfully, they asked me to play! I have stuck with Team Pineapple ever since and am honored to be a member of the team. Team Pineapple is truly a great volleyball family and everyone is always there for each other on and off the court.”
Matt, age 29, and his wife, Tara, recently moved back to Cincinnati to be closer to family. While he works full-time as a CNC machinist, specifically working as a millhand at Quality Manufacturing Co., he is looking forward to the upcoming VLA season with Team Pineapple, his volleyball family. Matt and Team Pineapple will kick off the 2022 season January 15/16th in Fort Wayne, Indiana against the defending league champs, The Chicago Icemen. You can watch the live stream or replay of every match at the Volleyball League of America Youtube page.