RICK GRAEFE / JOURNAL SLUH's Tom Beckmann readies to defend a volley from Vianney's Danny Lohse during Wednesday evening's match at SLUH. The Junior Billikens won the match in two straight sets.

Rick Graefe

Tom Beckmann couldn’t take his eyes away. With his hands on his head, a runner-up medal between his fingers, Beckmann looked through the net as the Francis Howell Central boys’ volleyball team celebrated with its fans. They hoisted the championship trophy high in the air, cheered and then cheered some more.

Beckmann looked like his heart had been ripped out of his chest and spiked into the court. Covered in sweat from a hard fought three game match, Beckmann and his fellow St. Louis University High teammates were, once again, handed the trophy they didn’t want following the state title game. Last year, it was Oakville that broke their hearts. This year it was Howell Central.

So there stood Beckmann, all 6-foot-6 and 210-pounds of him, with tears in his eyes from the pain of coming so close of being a champion—again. He couldn’t stop his gaze from staying stuck on the champions. He wanted to pull away, he really did. But something made him watch, made him soak in the image and made him bury it deep in his mind and soul. “I was trying to store that in my mind. It was almost like salt in the wound,” the 17-year-old says.

He says he kept watching because he wanted to turn his frustration into motivation. So that when things get tough—and they will—he’ll dig even deeper to find the energy he needs. “I’ll dive for that ball, I’ll stay mentally tough for that next point,” he says. “Whatever it takes to hoist that trophy next year.”

Next year, for Beckmann, started the day after the season ended. As junior outside hitter, Beckmann is regarded as one of the top players in his class. He led SLUH (28-6-1) with 156 kills and was crucial to their return trip to the state title game.

Beckmann is as close to a volleyball lifer as you can get on the boys side. Beckmann’s first experience came as a sixth grader. A friend of his family from the CYC was putting together a team and asked Beckmann’s mother, Sophie, if her son might be interested in giving it a go. She approached Tom, and he said he’d give it a try. Fifteen minutes into his first practice, Beckmann was head over heels for the sport. “The first practice, it was so fast-paced,” he says. “It was like a rush I’d never experienced.” Beckmann played baseball and soccer, but volleyball struck a chord. He played that first CYC season of volleyball and then went into the normal routine of baseball. While playing the other sports in his life, he found himself thinking about volleyball. That’s when he knew it was time to give the rest up. “By playing baseball, I realized how much I loved volleyball,” he says. “Taking that time off (from volleyball) developed my love for the game.”

It doesn’t hurt that volleyball is stamped in his genetics. Beckmann’s mother is Sophie McCarthy-Beckmann, a Hall of Famer and state champion volleyball player for Incarnate Word (Class of ’83).

With his focus solely on volleyball, Beckmann has remained dedicated to the sport all year. Even just days after watching his high school season come to a crushing end, he was planning on joining up with his club team, High Performance.

As he goes into the off-season, Beckmann wants to do everything he can to be at the peak of his powers come next spring. So that the next time the state championship trophy is being held high in the sky, it’ll be someone else starring at what could have been.