March 31, 2022 - It is a peculiar scene to the uninitiated, there is no doubting that. There are just so few left in what could be described as the uninitiated in the world of grass volleyball, those who haven't seen Marc Fornaciari's warm-up routine. Or, to be more accurate, the entire lack thereof.
You'd have to scroll more than a decade to get to the bottom of Fornaciari's AVPAmerica profile, and, if there were one, you'd be scrolling much farther to get to the bottom of the full manifest of tournaments he's played. He's been doing this for a long time, Fornaciari, especially for someone who is still only 38 years old.
So it's not strange to most who see Fornaciari lazily going through the motions of what could loosely be described as a warm-up prior to his grass matches at marathon tournaments such as The Clash, Pottstown, or Grass Nationals. Other players, bigger players, players wearing shirts bearing blue-blood names such as Penn State or USC or UCLA or Pepperdine or Ohio State, will be hammering ball after ball, bouncing them into nearby states. Fornaciari will shoot a line here, roll a cut there, take a sip of a Monster or Red Bull.
"I'll be standing there at Pottstown, and I'll be looking at all these huge dudes, just enormous, it's like: 'Here's an All-American from Penn State.' And they're all gassed up and charged for this tournament and you look around and there are so many big dudes, and you watch these guys in warm-ups, and they're absolutely annihilating balls," Fornaciari said. "It's like 'Oh my God, I have to deal with this [crap]?'"
It's not an act, this slow play of a warm-up. Fornaciari isn't playing the role of the too-cool veteran. Isn't attempting to show anyone up.
He knows exactly what he's doing.
"You just see these guys, and the shirts they're wearing," he said. "I didn't go to any of these colleges, and they're just hammering balls warming up, and you're like '[Gosh darn] these guys got energy.' Then you realize it's a marathon, not a sprint. You need to conserve your energy until the end."
And if there's one thing you can be assured of, it is that: Marc Fornaciari will be there at the end. Because it doesn't matter if he isn't, as he says, 'gassed up' like dozens of other players. Doesn't matter if he can't bounce balls like all those All-American outsides and opposites can. There's more to the grass game than that. Far more. And while he might not win the unspoken Instagram contest that comes with every tournament, beach or grass, he'll be in the finals, winning the real one.
"One thing I had to learn was how to conserve. Marc does a very good job of tournament management," said Nolan Albrecht, who is Fornaciari's usual partner. "One full jump from the service line is better than a 50 percent serve plus a block jump, plus running down a dig, plus a jump from the other guy. If you score a point with your serve and the other guy doesn't have to do a thing, the other guy just stands there, and you might miss it, but it if you just hit an easy serve, now you have to run up, your partner has to get a dig – you have to do all this stuff. The amount of reps we save throughout the day is part of our strategy. You can tell the inexperienced players because they're the ones peppering even before the player meeting."
He's a living embodiment of the cliched phrase, 'Work smarter, not harder,' Fornaciari. Why try to side out every ball when you can put your partner up on two, as he does so regularly with Albrecht? Why lazily hit a jump serve when you can rip one and potentially end the point in half a second? Why back down from attempting to dig heat from your opponent when you've had baseballs come at you twice as fast?
Oh, yes, whether he realized it or not at the time, Fornaciari has been cross-training for grass volleyball his entire life. As a left-handed pitcher for UNC-Charlotte and Lenoir-Rhyne College, Fornaciari has seen baseballs, which are significantly harder than a volleyball, mind you, fly back at him with such pace that only instinctive reactions could keep him from getting seriously injured.
What's a volleyball compared to that?
"I took a ball off the neck from [Andre] Belov [who won Pottstown this past year] early in my career," Fornaciari said. "Even if you took Evandro [Goncalves of Brazil], I'm not scared of any ball because I grew up in the era of negative five bats and I used to see balls come back at me when I was in high school. Those bats were so juiced, and everybody was on 'roids, and they were just hitting piss-rods up the middle and my hand-eye coordination got so good from trying to field. You could get killed on a line drive and it helped me in volleyball because every time I pull, I'm baiting the hitter to hit at me because whatever I'm seeing come at my face, I've seen a baseball coming at me 100 miles per hour harder."
So you won't be seeing Fornaciari backing down when there's an open net and a 6-foot-6 player charging in. He'll dig those heels in and wait, even if it means taking a few off the chin. Because, at the end of the day, the possibility of taking one off the chin is a heck of a lot more exciting than sitting in the dugout ever was. The tedium, the monotony, of a full baseball season is what proved the demise of Fornaciari's career on the diamond.
But grass volleyball? With fans that come out in droves in popular haunts such as The Clash or Crown, or in pockets in the Carolinas, or at Pottstown? With tournaments that stretch almost a dozen matches long, with a carrot of decent prize money at the end, just dangling there for you to take?
No boredom there.
He knew the second he first witnessed The Clash and The Crown that he wanted to win them.
"I played in those my first few years and I never broke pool," Fornaciari said. "I always wondered 'Could I win that tournament?' because there were so many eyes on it, it was always so large. There are a lot more spectators. Then when I finally won it, I said 'I'll just keep playing it' then next thing I know, I'm helping them run it, and then we're in the finals in every single one. It just led to more tournaments – did that, let me try Waupaca. Then you get the itch for Waupaca. Getting a taste of that huge crowd and then Pottstown and Grass Nationals and those other huge tournaments."
He's a staple of the grass scene now, Fornaciari, a ubiquitous presence, energy drink in hand, the fuel anyone would need to make as many finals as he does. Fornaciari and Albrecht are the defending National Champions, and Fornaciari also claimed second at The Crown with Kaleb Jenness and Michael Michelau, second in Pottstown, and first in the Carolina Chaos June tournament.
So you can expect to see Fornaciari deep into almost any tournament he plays.
Just don’t expect to see him warm up.
~ Travis Mewhirter: @trammew