By MATT PARRINO
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — Learning to lead can be a long process. An athlete usually must understand his or her own strengths and weaknesses before he or she can motivate and inspire others.
But North Tonawanda volleyball player Ryan Fritz is different. He was born to help others. It's why he is always smiling on the court, why he's always working on his game and why he plans on following in his brother's footsteps after graduation by joining the Marines.
Fritz was voted as team captain this year, in only his junior season, because he's earned the respect of his teammates. He started as a sophomore and has blossomed into the unquestioned leader of the Lumberjacks. He credits Josh Fritz, his brother, for always setting a good example.
"My brother was always the way that I am — kind of a 'smart-alec' and always joking around," Fritz said. "But when it comes to serious moments, I can be serious."
In 2010, the Fritz family lost a close friend who was killed in Afghanistan. Josh Fritz — a member of the 2009 state championship football team — joined the Marines to honor his friend.
Fritz said that he's always looked up to his brother and believes their path in life will always be connected.
"I intend on going in the Marines after high school depending on where my high school stuff takes me," Fritz said. "But most likely I'll follow in his footsteps. He's been my role model in life."
Fritz's infectious smile is one of the first things people notice when watching the Jacks on the volleyball court. He loves the game and it shows. The court is his sanctuary — where he can lose himself and forget about everything else for a little while.
When Fritz is playing, he said he lives in that moment. He's not thinking about homework or what he's doing after the game, he's just focused on hitting the ball and making the right plays.
Jacks coach Luke Hodgson said it's one of Fritz's best qualities.
"It's a serious game, you want to win and you want to get as many points as you can, but it's also a fun game too," Hodgson said. "He just loves every moment of it. Other guys pick up on that. It makes coming to practice easier and it makes losing a game easier when he can say something funny in a timeout. It brings everyone together."
On the court, Hodgson called Fritz the definition of fundamental. He said he's smart and he soaks up everything in practice.
Fritz uses his footwork and quickness to chase down balls and get to every spot on the court. When he gets there he knows what to do with the ball and he said that's his biggest strength.
"You see a lot of guys swinging at bad sets and putting it into the net, whereas maybe you should tip it and try to get the ball in so you can keep the play going," Fritz said. "I've been working on my hitting a lot this year so that's another strength I've been working on. It's important to be able to hit spots on the court where people aren't."
Hodgson said the sky is the limit for Fritz, who sort of underwent a "trial by fire" last season as a sophomore. Hodgson also said the 6-foot-2 hitter seems much more comfortable this season and should really shine next year as a senior.
Fritz is aiming to give his best effort this season, but not for himself, for his teammates.
"I got elected team captain — it was kind of shocking — and I'm proud of that and I try to motivate my team and keep them going on and off the court," Fritz said. "I try and keep things as fun as possible because I know the seniors only have one year left. I know I can repay these guys by helping them out on the court."Contact Sports Editor Matt Parrino at 693-1000 ext. 4117 and find Tonawanda Sports on Twitter @tonanewssports.