From the time he was five years old until the time he got to high school, all Minooka’s Maalik Walker thought about was playing baseball.
Then he went to watch a girls volleyball game.
“My mom and dad wanted me to play baseball,” the 6-foot-6 senior middle hitter said. “Then I went to a girls volleyball game and I liked it. I started watching college games and I liked that. I liked the game. I like hitting the ball, and I like blocking.
“I stopped playing baseball,” he added. “There was a lot of disappointment at home. But I have no regrets, not at all. I love this game so much.”
Walker’s dominance at the net Saturday helped lead Minooka to a 5-0 record and the title of the 16-team Plainfield North tournament. For his efforts, which included five kills and two blocks in the championship match, Walker was named the Sun-Times Athlete of the Week.
Walker’s performance should come as no surprise to anyone who follows boys volleyball. Last year, when Minooka finished fourth in the IHSA state tournament, he compiled more than 150 kills, 80 blocks and a dozen aces for the Indians.
But it’s not only his numbers on the court that have made Walker one of the most popular players on his team. His comedy routines crack up his teammates, and his energy provides a spark before, during and after every match.
“He’s definitely an energy guy,” Minooka coach Janel Grzetich said. “And he’s a lot of fun. He makes the other guys laugh, loosens them up a little bit, but at the same time he gets them really pumped up. He’s got that quality to his personality, which is great to see.
“I still remember his freshman year,” she added. “He was that freshman who was handpainting signs, cheering for Matt Phillips when he was a senior. His personality is very, very evident in everything he does. It’s nice to see it carried over to his senior year.”
Walker said he gets his fun personality from his dad.
“My dad jokes around all the time,” he said. “He’s still the better comedian, but I’m catching up.”
Walker also had to play catch-up after starting volleyball late in his athletic career.
He did not begin playing club ball until his freshman year when he toiled for UNO in Joliet. Last year, he joined several of his teammates at Chicago Volleyball Club in Palos Heights.
However, he is still unsure if he will continue playing beyond this year.
“I don’t know yet,” Walker said. “I might want play volleyball in college. I’m not 100 percent sure yet.”
Walker is certain of one thing. Despite Minooka’s lofty preseason expectations and their Sun-Times No. 2 ranking, he and his teammates are not looking ahead.
“We’re just focused on one goal at a time,” he said. “This week we focused on the Plainfield North tournament. Now we have to go back to school, focus on the next practice and focus on the next tournament.”