Even though Jan Mankovecky played college and professional volleyball and Leslie Baab played college volleyball, neither of them pushed their son, Joe Mankovecky, into the sport at a young age.

Even though Jan Mankovecky played college and professional volleyball and Leslie Baab played college volleyball, neither of them pushed their son, Joe Mankovecky, into the sport at a young age.

Joe Mankovecky played baseball and basketball before playing organized volleyball for the first time as a sixth-grader at St. Michael School in Worthington. And when he chose to high jump and sprint for St. Michael's track and field team that same school year, his parents supported his pursuit of that sport.

As a result of that support and his hard work, the Watterson High School sophomore has blossomed into a valuable member of the Eagles boys volleyball and boys track and field teams.

"My parents have always encouraged me to do what I want to do and they never pushed me into volleyball," he said. "When I need coaching in volleyball, they're great coaches and they're both always there for me. And when I need help with track and field, they've found coaches to work with me. It's really time-consuming to do two sports at the same time every spring, but I'm good at both of them, so I don't want to put one of them ahead of the other."

After playing sparingly for the varsity volleyball team as a freshman, Joe Mankovecky has become a starting outside hitter this season. Standing 6-foot-4 with a 30-inch vertical leap, he gives his parents an equal amount of credit for teaching him how to play the sport.

Jan Mankovecky, who was born in Czechoslovakia, played volleyball for Slovak Technical University from 1975-80. He also played for the Red Star Bratislava professional team from 1975-82 before escaping Czechoslovakia and moving to Vienna, Austria, where he played for the Sokol Vienna professional squad from 1982-83.

After moving to Columbus in 1983, Jan Mankovecky played for the top recreational teams in the area for several years. He also was coach of the Thomas Worthington boys team from 1988-90, and he guided the Cardinals to a state title in his final season.

Jan Mankovecky said his son has the potential to develop into a better player than he was when he played as a professional.

"He absolutely can reach my level or go even further, because I didn't start playing until I was 18," he said. "He's already very tall with long arms, and he's only 16, so he may grow another two to four inches. He's got the talent to become a world-class volleyball or track athlete. It all comes down to what he wants to do with his talent."

Baab played volleyball at North Dakota State University from 1978-80 before serving as an assistant coach for the College of Wooster women's team from 2002-04 and coaching her son's squad at St. Michael during his seventh- and eighth-grade seasons.

"With his height and jumping ability, Joe's hitting and blocking are advanced for his age," Baab said. "We didn't really start teaching him the game until he was in sixth grade, but he's picked it up pretty quickly."

Through 12 matches, Joe Mankovecky has a team-high 39 kills, a team-high average of 2.9 kills per game, an average of 2.0 blocks per game, a .387 hitting percentage, 14 digs and eight aces in 52 service attempts.

"Joe's a vital part of our team with his hitting and blocking in the front row," Watterson boys volleyball coach Nick Randolph said. "With his wingspan and leaping ability, he puts up a solid block against opposite hitters. He's definitely getting better at passing, too, and he's starting to play all-around more."

To help hone his high-jumping skills, Mankovecky attended Dick Fosbury's Track Camp in Pocatello, Idaho, in 2007, '08 and '09. Fosbury won the gold medal in the high jump in the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City with a jump of 7 feet, 4 1/4 inches, setting American and Olympic records in the event.

Mankovecky emerged as Watterson's leading high jumper as a freshman, clearing 6-2 to place sixth in the Division II regional meet at Lexington to fall two spots shy of qualifying for the state meet. He reached a new personal record in the high jump earlier this season when he cleared 6-3 to win the event in the Utica Invitational on March 31.

"Joe's doing well and we're hoping he can go a couple inches higher once we get some warm weather," Watterson boys track and field coach Matt McGowan said. "Joe had a three-inch (personal record) at regional last year and he would have qualified for state if we would have been in the Dayton district. He has the ability to get to state this year if he stays focused and keeps improving."

Mankovecky is trying to break the program record in the high jump (6-5). He also is hoping he can help the volleyball team advance to the Division II state tournament for the first time, after the second-seeded Eagles lost to top-seeded St. Charles 25-22, 25-22, 26-24 in a regional final a year ago.

Mankovecky plans on continuing to compete in both volleyball and track as a junior and senior, and his ultimate goal is to earn a Division I college scholarship.

"I'd love to get a scholarship in at least one of them, because I really want to keep playing sports in college," he said. "I'd prefer to play college volleyball because it's fun and it's more of a high-energy sport. But I'm advancing faster in the high jump, so I may have more of a future in track. I'm just going to keep doing my best in both of them and I'll see where my future takes me."