Cactus graduate Bobby Henige had the opportunity to attend and play division I volleyball, but decided against it for a school that was beginning its second season of existence.
After helping lead the team to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Division III playoffs, Henige is happy with his decision.
“After a summer camp in California, (now head coach) Ray Lewis started scouting me and I just got a positive vibe from him,” Henige said. “After I visited the campus and heard what their goal was, I just thought it would be a good fit and I was right.”
Henige graduated from Cactus in 2016 after playing volleyball for the Cobras for three years. He was captain of the Cobras for two years and was named an all-state honorable mention as a senior.
Lewis, who was an assistant coach the first two years, is head coach next season and knew Henige would be a great fit for their program.
“I was drawn to his height and sheer athleticism, but after talking to Bob Henige Sr., I knew we had found a gem,” Lewis said. “(Henige) dad said to me that it wasn’t about the school size or the enrollment total, that Bobby wanted a school that he could feel at home. He was not going to jump at the name of the university, but rather the type of people in it. This is what sold me on him.”
In an elimination match, Benedictine University dropped a five-set match to Siena Heights University 25-20, 25-17, 21-25, 20-25, 8-15) with Henige having 10 kills and four blocks. He said he was surprised at the differences between high school and college.
“At the first practice of the season, I was surprised at the talent level of everyone and how high their skill was,” Henige said. “The game is completely different and so much faster that I knew I had a lot of work to do to get better.”
After working hard in pre-season practice and games, Lewis said he saw a strong future for Henige.
“We had talked about how much potential he had, but were undecided if he would see the court during his freshman year,” Lewis said. “His work ethic is what solidified his role and he continued to improve by increasing his volleyball IQ and versatility. Being tall was no longer going to be enough for him to be a standout and he began to understand that and he continued to add more range as an attacker and discipline as a blocker.”
Henige played in 24 matches, starting 19, and averaged 2 points, 1.5 kills and one block per game as a key blocker for the Redhawks.
Lewis added that Henige was a great asset to the team and grew as the season went on.
“His blocking ability was the biggest surprise and he seemed to do what we call ‘the middle blocker dance’ and oftentimes, he would guess where the set was going,” Lewis said. “He would create difficult situations for the defenders and as the year went on, the discipline got better and so did his blocking.”
Henige helped lead the team to a number nine ranking in the country earlier in the season, but said he still sees room for improvement.
“I need to increase my range of hitting and seeing the entire court more and move around a lot easier,” Henige said. “Being part of a new program, and trying to make a name for the program quickly, I have a lot of room to get better for myself and the university.”
Lewis said he feels Henige has the desire to improve and the team will lean on him more next season.
“The sky is the limit for him and I feel he can do a lot in this game with his strong work ethic and drive,” Lewis said. “There is no ceiling and if he puts his mind to it, I truly believe that he can accomplish any goals he sets for himself. We expect him to take on a bigger leadership role next season as we will have a lot of incoming, talented freshmen that he will be ale to fill a mentorship role.”
Henige, who is majoring in business, drives 40 minutes to early morning practices and Lewis said he never misses practices. Henige said he has set a number of personal goals for the next three seasons at Benedictine University.
“I want to make first team all-conference, but the goal is to be an all-American,” Henige said. “That and I want to take this team to a national title and we have a lot of talent coming in, so I think we are on the right track.”
Lewis said he believe Henige is the perfect person to lead the Redhawks’ growth and lead them into the future.
“When I first signed Bobby, I remember telling (former head coach Steve) Crook, that we just signed someone special. I had no doubt that this kid was a game changer and he knows that I have the utmost confidence in his ability,” Lewis said. “I think Bobby will be a key factor in the future success of our program. He has the leadership abilities to be the player that elevates this program to a national platform.”