Volleyball champ Henige has Cactus High roots

Benedictine University (Mesa) juniors Bobby Henige, left, and Wyatt Henson go up for a block during the NAIA tournament this spring. Both return for their senior season with the Redhawks. [Submitted photos]

Richard Smith
West Valley Preps

Bobby Henige decided to pick up the other family sport.

Within six years of taking up volleyball, he was a cornerstone of a national champion.

Henige is beginning his senior year at Benedictine University in Mesa, looking to lead the defense of the Redhawks’ NAIA title while passing on the young program’s growing traditions.

“We want to grow the name of this university. We have a lot of talented freshmen coming in and I want to pass on a good program to them,” Henige said.

None of this was a thought for the lanky young man until his sophomore season at Cactus High. He said he wanted to play football growing up and — already 6-4 — his father’s sport, basketball, held some appeal.

By then Robert and Jana Henige’s family was entrenched at his alma mater. Older sister Kennedie led the 2013 Cobras to the state volleyball title game.

That spring, the son of the former professional basketball player in Germany picked up something after hoops ended. The school added boys volleyball and Bobby Henige was soon hooked.

“I realized that was what I wanted to do,” Henige said.

Bobby began playing club volleyball before his senior year, but remained a bit raw.

By now he was 6-8 and retained his coordination. Then-Benedictine assistant Ray Lewis saw his potential early.

“I saw Bobby’s raw athleticism and size. He’s a really athletic 6-9 and had great control of his body which isn’t always found in taller players. Bobby was also a great teammate and leader. I watched how his team rallied around him,” Lewis stated in an email interview.

Henige originally signed with California State-Northridge but developed a good relationship with Lewis and decided to stay closer to home. Truth be told, he’s stayed at home – living in the West Valley while commuting to the school’s campus(es) scattered around downtown Mesa.

His freshman year was the Redhawks second as a program and the team went 12-14.

Lewis moved up to head coach in the 2018. Henige and the program took off.

“Bobby has made tremendous improvements in all areas of his game. He has increased his reading ability on blocking, his offensive power/range, serving ability and defensive,” Lewis stated.

He split time between outside hitter and middle blocker, and finished the season with 214 kills and 105 blocks.

Benedictine leapt all the way to the NAIA finals in its first real opportunity. Henige said an early-season upset of defending champ Park (Missouri) bolstered the team’s belief.

“Right after we did that we knew we can compete with anyone,” Henige said.

The team finished the year 21-9 and went 3-1 in bracket play, qualifying for the semifinals. The Redhawks avenged the loss to Lourdes University to make the finals.

There Grand View University turned the tables, paying back Benedictine for its pool win by winning the championship in four sets.

Most of the Redhawks were back for 2019 and their determination carried the squad through the spring. Benedictine lost to only one NAIA foe en route to a 26-4 record and the NAIA title.

Henige said a school record with 119 blocks in 2019. His 224 kills ranked third on the team.

“Bobby was a huge part of our success. He was our most reliable blocker and one of our most efficient attackers. He was in the top 10 nationally in multiple statistical categories,” Lewis stated.

Benedictine avenged the 2018 finals loss, sweeping Grand View in the semifinals. It lifted the title by trouncing Aquinas College 25-22, 25-20, 25-14.

“Everyone knows we earned it. All the hard work paid off. A lot of my best friends were those five seniors,” Henige said.

Now he’s one of four seniors leading a young team. Henige is a business major.

“I will look for Bobby to continue to lead by example while filling a bigger vocal leadership role on the team. He is one of the lone seniors this year and his mentor ship of the underclassmen will he paramount for our success,” Lewis stated.

If the Redhawks do it again, they will continue to take an unusual approach. For example, the defending champs still do not have a home gym.

The Redhawks practice at Eagles Community Center in Mesa and play at Mesa Community College. In a way, Henige said, it strengthens their bond.

“A lot of the people on the team do travel to the school. We don’t even have a home court. That brings us closer together,” Henige said.

Benedictine University (Mesa) juniors Bobby Henige, left, and Wyatt Henson go up for a block during the NAIA tournament this spring. Both return for their senior season with the Redhawks. [Submitted photos]
Benedictine University (Mesa) junior and Cactus High School alum Bobby Henige hits a kill during the NAIA tournament this spring. Henige returns for his senior season with the Redhawks. [Submitted photos]

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