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All-Decade boys volleyball spotlight: Gettinger brothers helped Lafayette shift local landscape of boys volleyball

All-Decade boys volleyball spotlight: Gettinger brothers helped Lafayette shift local landscape of boys volleyball

From the All-Decade boys volleyball series
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Former Lafayette boys volleyball coach Doug Ell couldn’t help but chuckle when reminded what he said at the end of an article naming his libero, Ryan Gettinger, the 2013 Post-Dispatch All-Metro player of the year.

Ell was talking about Ryan’s younger brother, Alex, coming to the Lancers as a freshman the following year.

“Rumor is he’s better,” Ell said at the time. “I haven’t seen him play yet. I’m looking forward to having him.”

While it is impossible to determine which brother was better because of the vastly different positions they played — Alex was a hard-hitting outside attacker and Ryan was an elite defensive specialist — there is no doubt the impact both Gettinger brothers had on the sport locally.

The duo helped establish Lafayette as the standard for Class 4 public schools in the sport and leveled the playing field between the public and private large schools in Missouri boys volleyball.

Ryan, who was named to the Post-Dispatch All-Decade third team, led Lafayette to its first state title in 2013. Alex, who was named to the All-Decade second team, equaled that feat in 2017 and matched his brother again by earning player of the year recognition the same season. Alex also took the Lancers to two more title match appearances in 2015 and 2016.

The brothers join Ryan Perkins and Justin Perkins of Francis Howell as the only two siblings to earn player of the year honors in their respective sport this decade. But unlike the Perkins twins, who shared co-defensive football player of the year in 2015, the Gettinger brothers won their titles in different seasons.

“Their leadership style was very similar,” Ell said. “No nonsense. They had a focus and an intensity that you don't see in a lot of young kids.”

Volleyball is in the Gettinger family DNA. Their parents, Kathy and Dan, met playing intramural volleyball in college. Older sister Caitlin also played for the Lancers.

Mom and dad instilled a work ethic and an attitude that allowed their children to maximize their talents.

“They were not like the parents you always hear about yelling and screaming on the sidelines,” Alex said. “They were pretty quiet, pretty relaxed and they trusted us. And they trusted the coaches to do what was needed and it was our job to motivate ourselves.”

Ryan said volleyball has been key to family bonding.

“If we go on vacation, if there’s a volleyball net on the beach, we'll go up and challenge anyone for the court,” Ryan said.

Ell has special memories of both brothers.

For Ryan, it was the penultimate point in the championship match against CBC in 2013.

“I can still see it clear as day,” Ell said. “We served the ball over, they sent it to their outside and their outside just ripped it cross court. And you can see just before the swing, Ryan Gettinger makes an adjustment to his positioning and he takes the ball off of his shoulder and the ball goes over the net and it lands in the farthest part of the court for point.”

Ryan remembers the play, which helped cement a 25-14, 26-24 sweep over the Cadets, a little differently.

“Honestly, it probably wasn’t a great dig,” said Ryan, whose Lancers went 38-5-1 that season. “It went over the net and I got lucky it went down on the court. It should have gone to our setter.”

For Alex, it was finally beating SLUH in the championship match after falling short against the Jr. Billikens the previous two seasons. The 2017 Lancers edged SLUH 25-20, 15-25, 25-23 in the title match to put a bow on a near-perfect campaign with a 33-1 record. 

“Winning a state title my senior year was incredible,” Alex said. “Just being able to win it with all the guys that I basically grew up with and from freshman year being able to help them and doing it as a group was amazing.”

Alex just finished his sophomore season at national power Pepperdine University. After watching and learning for most of his freshman season as the Waves finished No. 3 nationally, Alex put in extra hours in the gym to earn a starting spot before the coronavirus pandemic cut the season short.

He is majoring in sports administration and plans to become a volleyball coach. He already showed a natural propensity for teaching the game when he was at Lafayette.

“He was instrumental in helping our younger players learn what it took to win in those big matches and I think that was passed from him to his brother,” Ell said. “After watching his older brother win, Alex came in with the expectation of this is what we have to do and this is how we have to do it.”

Ryan graduated from the Naval Academy while Alex was winning that championship. In fact, the Gettinger clan watched the championship match on the internet during Ryan's graduation party in Maryland.

Ryan now is in the Marines and is stationed in Kingsville, Texas. He is training to fly either F-35s, Harriers or F-18s.

“Anytime you hear the national anthem I think about him,” Alex said. “I think it’s really cool to have an immediate family member in the service and it’s an honor to have him as my brother.”

The Gettingers and Lafayette changed the landscape of Missouri volleyball.

The Lancers showed that not only could a large public school compete with the private school blue bloods such as Vianney, St. Louis U. High and De Smet in a given year, but that a public school could have sustained success.

“I don't think it was really a mental hurdle,” Ryan said. “It was more of a drive, something to take pride in. … I think it’s shown a lot of people that you can go to your public school and you have a chance every year.”

Prior to 2011, a public school had never won the Class 4 title. Oakville opened the decade by breaking that streak. Francis Howell followed in 2012, Lafayette in 2013, Lindbergh in 2014 and the Lancers again in 2017.

Former De Smet coach John Hawkey saw the change from the other side.

“I think the biggest change was the talent started to get more spread out,” Hawkey said. “The public schools started taking volleyball more seriously and the coaches continued to work very hard in getting good players and athletes who were interested in playing. No longer were the best players at the private schools. From there, you had players at public school playing club and playing year-round.”

Ell also credits the expansion of the sport on the collegiate level and beyond to help lure more athletes to the court.

“You are seeing greater opportunities for young men to play at the next level and that was always one of the issues is, ‘If I'm going to make this my primary sport, what am I going to do with it after high school is over?’” Ell said. “We're seeing more and more boys go on to play in college and that has created a bigger draw.”

Hawkey continues to work behind the scenes for boys volleyball in Missouri, which is currently recognized by the Missouri State High School Activities Association as a club sport. Most of his efforts have been centered on expanding the sport beyond St. Louis to raise the number of participating schools to level where it will be recognized as an official sport by MSHSAA.

Prior to COVID-19, Hawkey’s efforts in Kansas City and Columbia had proven fruitful and it seemed to be a forgone conclusion that an official recognition is in the future. None of that would be possible without the success of Lafayette and other public schools.

“Now you have the schools believing they’ve got the guys who can work hard and make something happen,” Hawkey said. “It is now where every year everyone's got a shot.”

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