It's a big jump from the ECIC to national competition, and Jeff Ptak was up there with the best of them.
The Frontier senior, surrounded by California teammates, pulled off the improbable this offseason by surviving several cuts to compete in Europe on the U.S. Junior National Volleyball Team.
The original tryout attracted over 800 boys to six sites across the country. They were vying for only 12 spots on the 18-and-under National team that would compete in the Four Nations Tournament in Sicily.
Ptak credits his ability to jump with getting past all that competition.
"The coaches told me they picked me because I can jump," said Ptak. "That's what they're looking for. I'm not a tall guy (6-foot-3), but I can jump. It's natural ability, I guess."
Ptak has a 40-inch vertical leap, allowing him to extend 3 1/2 feet above an 8-foot volleyball net. He clears six inches above the antenna which marks the sidelines on a volleyball court.
"It's amazing when you see this kid," said Frontier coach John Cordier. "People are trying to block, and the kid hits it down their back. And you know, it's effortless. It's really incredible to see."
Ptak and his Junior Olympic teammates spent the month before the trip to Europe working out at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. While in Colorado, Ptak played in a scrimmage against the U.S. Olympic team and the World University Games team. He described them as "very tall and very good."
Ptak's Junior Olympic team didn't win any of its six matches against teams from Italy, Japan and Poland, but Ptak said the U.S. contingent was at a disadvantage.
"We were playing kids who were like 20, and they play pro in Europe, like they get paid to play," he said. "Next year, we'll probably do a lot better."
Ptak said there was a huge contrast from going to a state-of-the-art facility at the Olympic Training Center to Italy. He said the gyms they played in while in Italy were really old and "concrete was everywhere."
After a month on the road, Ptak is back with the Falcons trying to help them win their fourth consecutive Section VI title.
Frontier is the No. 1-ranked school in the Western New York Coaches Poll. The Falcons are off to a 13-1 start with tournament victories at Eden and Clarence. Ptak was named MVP of both tourneys.
Ptak said the adjustment from playing for your country to playing for your school isn't that difficult.
"I just know the difference. I can get myself pumped up because I know there are always people watching, who come to see our team play," he said. "When I play, I don't think about myself. I think about what I can do for my team. I want to go to college for this, so maybe there are scouts in the stands."
Among the schools he is considering is Penn State, regarded as the top men's volleyball program in the East. A Penn State scout told Cordier they consider Ptak their No. 1 recruit in the country.
"He has a very mature attitude on the whole thing," said Cordier, "and he's very humble."