Loving life as a Mustang


From a Czech village to Monterey Trail, Marek Slavik's a big hit

By Joe Davidson -, Published 12:00 am PDT Tuesday, April 8, 2008

At some point, coaches dream it.

What if … the unexpected happens, and out of the blue a great athlete walks into the program? No fanfare or competition for his services, just somebody no one knew about who can really play.

But it was no dream for Kingsley Claudy, boys volleyball coach at Monterey Trail High School. Last fall, one of the school's top players, Johnathan Nguyen, sprinted up to the coach and said in so many words a volleyball star had arrived, special delivery from the Czech Republic. Name of Marek Slavik. Mad skills.

Claudy asked Slavik, a 6-foot-4 exchange student from the village of Rosovice, to hit a few volleyballs. The 18-year-old obliterated them as onlookers ducked for cover.

"Right away, you can tell he was a special player, an amazing athlete," Claudy said. "He was the complete package. Just dominating."

Slavik's impact on the Mustangs has been profound. The team was 17-15 last season and has improved to 20-7 so far this season.

A ferocious outside hitter, Slavik has a "hammer for an arm swing," Claudy said. Slavik's school-record 28 kills in a match against Woodcreek this season impressed observers.

"He's tough to deal with," said Woodcreek coach Brian Jew. "He's a great player. He hits the ball incredibly hard."

Slavik said he came to the United States to experience American culture and to prepare for a career as an automobile engineer. Choosing Elk Grove, Slavik said he wanted to hone his English skills and see as many cars as possible.

"I came mostly to learn more English," Slavik said. "English speaking in Europe has great value for jobs. I also wanted to learn more about the American economy, and to see what school was like here."

Volleyball helped Slavik's transition from resident of a village with about 350 people to American student at a high school with more than 2,000.

Slavik, who loves cars and talking, has become the team's social epicenter. He augments his skills in athletics and socializing with honor-level grades and said he is fascinated by the Declaration of Independence.

He also noted the differences between playing volleyball in high school and playing it as a club sport in the Czech Republic.

"I love this team here. It's so different than back home," Slavik said. "Here, it's a team ?" no egos, no attitude. Just good guys and a lot of fun."

Slavik lives with Brad and Dawn Hall, both of whom work in retail computer software.

"We feel very lucky," Dawn Hall said. "It's been a wonderful experience. He has a great sense of humor."

Slavik's English has improved dramatically, and Claudy said he also has learned "a lot of American slang." It's "oh, my gosh" one moment and "my bad" another.

The Mustangs' lineup of Slavik, Nguyen, Jaskaren Bains, Nick Jew, Marcian Evans and Vadim Drozhzhin has become close. His teammates don't want to see their foreign-born star head home.

"When you see him play, it's like, 'Wow.' He can do it all, and he's been great to get to know," said Nguyen, the team setter. "If I had to choose an All-American, it'd be him."

Slavik said he is torn about returning to his parents ?" his father is a manager for a book company, his mother a physical therapist ?" three younger brothers, fishing and his beloved motorcycle.

"I have mixed feelings," Slavik said. "I have the same feelings as I did before I came here. I don't want to leave friends and family behind, but I was excited about the opportunity. Now I don't want to leave my friends here and (the Halls).

"But I am also excited to go home."

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