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Summer volleyball leagues in Hermantown provide competitive outlet

Volleyball teams fill the sand courts at Skyline Lanes in Hermantown. (Clint Austin / / 4
Calvin Olson of Saginaw spikes the ball into Joel Wagenbach of Duluth while playing sand volleyball at Skyline Lanes in Hermantown. (Clint Austin / / 4
Sarah Aaseth of Duluth bumps the ball while playing sand volleyball at Skyline Lanes recently. (Clint Austin / / 4
Dono Frye of Duluth bumps the ball while playing sand volleyball at Skyline Lanes in Hermantown. (Clint Austin / / 4

When the ball sails into his domain, just beyond where his outstretched arms will allow him to reach, Tony Finley executes a move he calls “the Pelé.”

“I’ll stick my foot out, kick it up and throw it the other team’s way,” said Finley, who gets to mimic the former Brazilian soccer star every Wednesday night as part of his sand volleyball team’s weekly match at Skyline Lanes in Hermantown.

“Having fun, staying healthy, maybe having a few beers afterward,” he said. “This is the ultimate game.”

Finley is one of nearly 2,000 people who hit the sand every summer at Skyline, a business named for its bowling, but which has become an increasingly popular spot for sand volleyball in recent years. Skyline is home to eight sand courts (two of which were just added) that play host to more than 300 teams in four leagues throughout the summer.

“Basically, it’s having fun, getting a little cardio in,” said Finley, who became hooked on the sport when his wife, Cynthia, started playing nearly 20 years ago. At Skyline, the couple plays on a recreation league team with a few friends from work.

“It’s a fun league,” Tony Finley said. “Some of us might have a little bit of a competitive edge, though.”

Ron Weisman, a friend and teammate of Tony Finley’s, routinely displays such an edge. “The Pelé” won’t be found in his repertoire.

“If I have a chance to get a ball, I’m going to dive and do whatever I have to do to save it,” Weisman said. “I have fun, but I’m also very competitive. That’s the way I am.”

Weisman, a longtime volleyball player in his own right, was recently convinced by the Finleys to rejoin the recreation league, which is supposed to be the most mellow of the four. He spent the past few summers nursing injuries and spending time at his cabin.

“They begged me to come out and play,” Weisman said. “It’s part of summer. It’s a ritual to come out here and play sand volleyball.

Have fun and exercise

“When summer comes, you don’t exercise as much because it’s summer. I can definitely feel my breath when I’m out there. It’s a good way to have fun and exercise at the same time.”

While the volleyballs fly — at times lazily and at others briskly — over the net, families at the surrounding tables work on pizza and drinks to the beat of country music oozing from the sound system. The occasional rogue serve or deflected spike goes hurtling toward someone’s dinner.

“It’s drink at your own risk,” joked Mike Winters, the director of volleyball at Skyline. During the matches, which run from 7-10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, Winters makes what he calls “the rounds,” greeting customers and watching some of the action.

“I’ve been drilled a couple times in the face not paying attention — sunglasses go flying,” he said. “It’s just the hazard of the game.”

Winters has played sand volleyball for several years in the Twin Ports and has been the director of volleyball at Skyline for the past two. He knows the far-reaching positive impact the game can have, he said.

“There’s a great deal of physical benefits — leg strength, cardiovascular health, helps with your hand-eye coordination and your shoulder strength,” he said. “But a lot of it, too, is just mental. Everyone is competitive by nature, and it’s an outlet to channel that.”

For some players, like Josh Soderholm of Hermantown, the hourlong matches are an opportunity to help make up for a week of inactivity.

“It’s probably the only exercise I get during the week,” said Soderholm, who plays in one of the two intermediate leagues. “You get a good hour, a good workout, quick movements, short bursts, heart rate gets up there.”

Soderholm, who has bounced among various teams since he started playing at Skyline almost 10 years ago, said there is a significant jump in intensity from the recreation league to the intermediate leagues.

“I played in a rec league last year and was all over the place,” he said. “Rec league is just hit the ball over the net.

“The competition (in the intermediate leagues) is great. It’s friendly, but it’s competitive. You want to get your three hits every time — your bump, your set and your spike. You never get arguments, except in the playoffs,” he said. “They switch into a different gear during the playoffs.”

A level above Soderholm, in the advanced league, the tension is much greater.

Justin Aleshire, a player for one of the advanced league teams, said the top tier is filled with fierce competitors and players rich with volleyball experience. “Pelés” are sacrilegious here.

“It’s about as competitive as it gets,” Aleshire said. “Our goal is to win and have fun along the way.”

“Let’s face it,” added Jeremy Amys, one of Aleshire’s teammates. “Winning is fun.”

Before and even after their matches, players in the advanced league sometimes can be found on the courts at Skyline, trying to sneak in a little extra practice time.

“People play until they shut the lights off,” Amys said.

Back in the recreation league, where the Finleys and their teammates hit (and kick) the ball around a little more casually, players end the night in a different way.

“We all hug goodbye when we leave,” said Cynthia Finley, just out of an embrace from one of her teammates. “We’re the most huggy team here.”

To get involved

To register a team for the 2015 season, visit