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Q&A: Gerstell volleyball coach Eric Zak discusses experience, Falcons’ inaugural season

Gerstell coach Eric Zak huddles with players during the Falcons' Friday night match against Chapelgate Christian Academy in Finksburg Nov. 20, 2020.
Gerstell coach Eric Zak huddles with players during the Falcons' Friday night match against Chapelgate Christian Academy in Finksburg Nov. 20, 2020. (Dylan Slagle)

Gerstell volleyball coach Eric Zak has been involved in the sport for more than 30 years as a coach and player.

Zak, a Carroll County native, took a year off from coaching high school volleyball prior to taking the Gerstell position once he was made aware that the Falcons were starting a program. He coached at Garrison Forest prior to arriving at Gerstell this year and was an assistant varsity coach and junior varsity coach at Carroll Christian Schools as well.

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He is a USA Volleyball Cap 1 Certified coach and coached the Carroll Viper Volleyball Club for eight years and served as the club’s technical director this past year.

Zak started playing in wallyball tournaments in the late 1980s and through the 90s. Wallyball is a faster version of volleyball that is played on a racquetball court, and Zak won a Wallyball National Championship in doubles and triples in 1999. He has also been competing in grass and beach doubles volleyball tournaments since the early 90s.

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The Times caught up with Zak to discuss his coaching experience, starting a program during the coronavirus pandemic, and more.

Q: What has your experience at Gerstell been like so far?

A: The experience at Gerstell has been great. Everyone has been very supportive, the campus and facility are beautiful.

Q: What was it like to start a new sports program during a pandemic?

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A: Starting a program in a pandemic was certainly an adventure. Our first “practices” were held over Zoom and the girls were required to wear masks during practices and games.

Q: How did the players handle the uncertainty of a fall season?

A: The players and their parents were amazing. When we started practice, the girls weren’t even sure if we would be able to play any matches this season but they were committed to learn the game and worked hard every practice. To their credit, we didn’t have one complaint about wearing masks or schedule changes due to the pandemic.

Q: How would you best describe Gerstell’s inaugural volleyball match being played outdoors at Garrison Forest?

A: Playing our first match outside will definitely be something the girls will remember. Most of our players had never played a game of organized volleyball much less played outdoors in the cold and wind.

Q: What has been the most rewarding and most challenging thing about coaching during a pandemic?

A: The most challenging part of this season had nothing to do with coaching, the person with the biggest challenge was definitely our athletic director — trying to get enough games scheduled, then dealing with rescheduling as the changes and cancellations came in had to be stressful. The most rewarding part of coaching during the pandemic has to be giving these young ladies some sense of normalcy and giving them an opportunity to come together and bond as a team as they learned the game.

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