Boys Volleyball Player of the Year: Jairam Rodriguez, Holyoke

  • Holyoke senior Jairam Rodriguez, left, spikes over Jake Gagnon of Granby in the first set of the Purple Knights’ win over the visiting Rams on May 16. Rodriguez has been named the Daily Hampshire Gazette Boys Volleyball Player of the Year. STAFF FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 8/11/2022 7:54:17 PM
Modified: 8/11/2022 7:51:02 PM

Volleyball is often a game of height. Players who are taller typically have the upper hand in matches.

But that’s not always the case – just look at Holyoke’s Jairam Rodriguez. Used to being underestimated because of his more average height, it never took Rodriguez very long to show his opponents that he was still a player to watch.

“Usually you’re thinking ‘Oh, he’s not that tall,’ but he can jump a mile,” Holyoke head coach Paula Conway said. “The other teams probably were thinking ‘Oh, he’s not the tallest kid in the front row,’ but they certainly were acquainted with him after one or two matches.”

While he’s not the tallest player on the court, Rodriguez is one of the most impactful, slamming home spikes with apparent ease, digging up balls to get his team’s offense in motion, and also serving as one of the team’s two main setters. He’s one of the more versatile players in the area, and he excels in whatever role he’s put in. His all-around play is one of many reasons that he was named the 2022 Daily Hampshire Gazette Boys Volleyball Player of the Year.

“He’s just about played every position, if you think about it. He’s not really a true middle, but he’s put himself in the middle a couple times, he’s played weak side, outside, setting, defensive specialist and libero,” Conway said. “He is an all-around player.”

Rodriguez was a star for the Purple Knights in a very successful season – the team went 16-2, including a perfect 8-0 in South Division II conference play, and qualified for the Division 2 MIAA state tournament. Ranked No. 15, the Purple Knights earned a bye in the first round of the tournament and shut out No. 18 Bellingham in three straight sets to qualify for the Round of 16, where they ultimately fell to No. 2 Greater New Bedford.

He became an all-around player slightly out of necessity – he was just 4-foot-11 when he first joined the Purple Knights, which made him an easy choice for defensive specialist his first year. After losing his second year to COVID-19, he became part of the team’s offense in his last two years and picked up setting his senior season.

“He loves a challenge, which is great. He loves the competition,” Conway said. “He is a thinker on the court. It’s great to have somebody like that, not overthinking, but thinking, making good decisions.”

It wasn’t easy for Rodriguez, who came to the United States when he was 13, learning English as a second language and picking up volleyball relatively later in his life. But he was more than willing to work hard to improve, and his natural skill and dedication have paid dividends for him. As a senior, he was one of the team’s leaders, working with new and returning players alike to improve the team’s chemistry.

“I would try on the court to always make them communicate with others and always try to explain an easier way for them to see the court so that when they get to the court, they don’t get that nervous,” Rodriguez said. “Volleyball – sometimes it gets a little bit difficult. So I always try to make my teammates’ work a little bit easier.”

Rodriguez will continue his volleyball career with Elms College this year, something that he’s been hoping and dreaming of since he was a freshman at Holyoke. In his first year with the Purple Knights, one of the coaches at Elms College saw Rodriguez play while watching an older player, Moose Perry, and made a point of telling Rodriguez’s mother how impressed she was with his play.

“My mom told me about it, and that kind of hyped me up a little,” Rodriguez said. “I kept in touch (with Perry) and the team, because I would go to their games, and every time I would go, I would feel like that was my place.”

He says he’s heard that his new college coaches are having a little trouble deciding what position he’ll play. When you have a player who’s good at everything, you’re spoiled for choice. But no matter what spot he ends up at, it’s safe to say that Rodriguez will make sure that everyone’s eyes stay on him.

FIRST TEAM ALL-STARS

Aleks Carey, sophomore, Frontier

Rainer Kristensen, sophomore, Belchertown

Jesse Kurkolonis, junior, Frontier

Willie Lopez, junior, Holyoke

Michael Swanigan, sophomore, Granby

Connor White, junior, Belchertown

SECOND TEAM ALL-STARS

Ty Bogdanovich, junior, Belchertown

Patrick Boyden, senior, Frontier

Jomar Colon, senior, Holyoke

Jake Gagnon, eighth grade, Granby

Will Hill, junior, Belchertown

 Gabriel Ibekilo, freshman, Belchertown

Tavo Vincent-Warner, freshman, Frontier


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