The moment took place during preseason workouts, but it was an eye-opener nevertheless. Jack Poplawski’s teammates were prepared to walk off the court, but the Whitman senior outside hitter had a message that just couldn’t wait.
“We were working in a drill and before we got our water I was like ‘Listen guys this is like our 10th practice this week and we’ve gotta hit this mark,”’ said Poplawski, both the leading voice and standout talent on the boys volleyball team. ‘“Let’s make it happen for each other.’”
For his coach, Mike Patto, it doubled as a defining moment regarding who Poplawski is and how far he’s come entering his fourth and final year with the Wildcats.
“Without my direction, he called his teammates to the middle of the court and really took control of the team,” said Patto. “And it was really obvious he meant business. That was a good turning point for us as the season’s getting underway.”
At the helm for seven years, Patto was not only impressed that Poplawski took such initiative, but that anyone would step up in such a manner.
“It was one of the first times I’ve seen anyone do that,” Patto said. “In volleyball, the coach can only do so much. Jack holds his teammates accountable. It’s not to say that he’s belittling anyone. He offers criticism and it’s welcomed because the players know when they do something well he’s going to prop them up just like I would. He’s mature beyond his years and it’s almost like having a second coach on the court.”
“This is such a great group of guys,” said Poplawski, who led Whitman to a 9-6 season and a Suffolk I quarterfinal last season. “It feels good helping to see them grow and get better.”
In terms of his physical attributes, Patto said Poplawski’s combination of height at 6-2 and superior striking power are the most impressive. Poplawski, who also runs track and field in the both the winter and spring, believes his overall athleticism provides his greatest advantage on the court.
“It definitely gives me a big advantage over other people,” Poplawski said. “Strict discipline and focus as well, being attentive to everything and focusing on every play. And looking ahead and being able to recognize things.”
“Being a decathlete is pretty demanding because you have to be well-rounded in everything,” Poplawski said. “Endurance helps with long rallies and transitioning throughout the game, moving around the court and running and diving.”
For Poplawski, leading a Whitman program that has never won a Long Island championship to the state tournament wouldn’t necessarily be the ultimate measure of success entering his final year in a Wildcat uniform. Because of the pride he takes in both the sport and school he represents, competing in a playoff game in front of the home crowd would represent a successful final season itself.
“Whether we win or lose it, that would definitely be a great feeling to have,” Poplawski said. “To have everyone from the school come to the volleyball game and cheer and support would be pretty great.”