Meet Men’s Volleyball’s All-American Parker Van Buren

The squad has been guided by Van Buren’s veteran leadership.

The No. 11 Loyola men’s volleyball team features a young, driven squad guided by the veteran leadership of All-American third-year outside hitter Parker Van Buren.

The Cross Plains, Wisconsin native has started in over 250 matches and has amassed over 1,000 kills in collegiate matches. Van Buren made his U.S. National Team debut in the 2022 Pan American Cup Final Six match, helping the team earn a bronze medal. 

He said his success on the court can be credited to his mom, who was his volleyball coach in high school. After playing both football and basketball, Van Buren tried out for the volleyball team and realized he could go to college and play the sport he now loved. 

After his first meeting at Loyola and bonding with the coaches and players, Van Buren decided to call Chicago home. He also said the academics and location was optimal for him. 

“I bonded with the players, and I just like how close it was to my home,” Van Buren said. “I just kind of outweighed everything. Also, academics are pretty good here.” 

After redshirting his first year, Van Buren first saw collegiate action in 2022 where he started in 89 of 95 sets played.He finished the season ranked fourth in the NCAA in kills and was named to the American Volleyball Coaches Association honorable mention team and Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association Newcomer of the Year. 

Van Buren said he began crafting his game more after his first season while immersing himself more in watching film. Loyola head coach John Hawks said Van Buren’s leadership growth stems from how he acts and his dedication to improving his abilities. 

“I think he’s become more of a student of the game, learning, watching more video,” Hawks said. “He’s a professional in the way he acts. I think it’s all this stuff off the court. He is just holding himself to a higher standard. He’s holding his teammates to a higher standard and taking on more.” 

Hawks, who coached at UCLA before joining the Loyola program, said he tried to recruit Van Buren to play for him in Los Angeles. 

“When I took the job, having Parker Van Buren on the team was something that made me go, ‘I can’t wait to coach this guy,’” Hawks said. 

Van Buren said the root of his inspiration to be a leader comes from his coaches and veteran players. He said his coaches are always pushing him to be a better player in the gym everyday and inspiring him in key areas on and off the court to make him a better player and person. 

Van Buren said the fourth and fifth-year players are able to both make him laugh and push him to be a better athlete. He said his favorite part is spending every day with the team and the bond they have created. 

“I see new flashes and new sparks of their old selves or their new selves pretty much every day,” Van Buren said. “It’s so fun and I’m so grateful.” 

Like this year’s first-year class, Van Buren entered the men’s volleyball program with nine other first-years and felt the importance of being close with his class. He said learning and laughing with them everyday in the gym is important and relays that sentiment to the incoming first-years. 

He said the dynamic of the team is special and something he is proud to be a part of. 

“It makes it really fun being a senior now and looking back, I guess instead of forward,” Van Buren said. “It’s been a fun challenge, a fun task to lead our younger crew.”

Second-year libero J.J. Sowa has played with Van Buren for the past two years. He said Van Buren is a teammate who always motivates everyone on the court, and seeing his work ethic helps motivate him to be a better player. 

“I was a little frustrated with my play and he just goes, ‘We need your energy,’ and that’s what I tried to bring to the last set,” Sowa said. “He’s a guy you look up to. He’s a guy that just plays at a high intensity everyday in the gym and it really helps seeing that, especially as a younger guy.” 

Van Buren said he had to step into a newer role this year after being named captain of the team. He said he reflected the leadership skills of his former teammate and previous captain Cole Schlothauer and what he brought to the team last season. 

He said the learning curve to being a leader is hard and he doesn’t have it down yet, but he said he is constantly working on being the leader the team needs. 

Van Buren currently leads the Ramblers with 358 kills this season, earning him the sixth place spot in the nation. He credits this feat to his team, saying he wouldn’t be able to be in this position if it wasn’t for his teammates setting him up for success. 

His abilities to lead the men’s volleyball team and be an inspiring and fun captain who “would do the worm every once and a while,” he said, are what make him an electric captain. With his time in the program coming to a close, he reflected on his first year on the team and how patience is key to getting to where he wants to be. 

“Keep learning and be open to all forms of criticism but also open to change,” Van Buren said. “Embrace whatever change comes your way and let the pieces fall where they may.”

This story was written by Christopher J. Henry and Andi Revesz.

Featured image by Megan Dunn | The Phoenix

The Phoenix Staff

The Phoenix Staff