EMU’s ‘Ninja’ Star: Justin Reesor

By Matthew Stoss, Daily News-Record

Middle blocker Justin Reesor is one of two returning seniors for the Royals.
Middle blocker Justin Reesor is one of two returning seniors for the Royals.

People who know Justin Reesor consistently described him as quiet and humble, and nothing about the 22-year-old’s calming demeanor indicates otherwise.

For those reasons, Eastern Mennonite University men’s volleyball coach Steve Benson didn’t know what to expect when Reesor tried out for the Royals’ team as a freshman.

“It wasn’t like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is a player,'” Benson said.

It’s easy to see why Reesor might confuse people. Nothing he says or does comes off as competitive. He has a relaxed sense of humor (most about being Canadian) and seems more likely to rescue children from a burning orphanage than be a powerful middle blocker on a college volleyball team.

And yet …

“He got on the court, and it was like, ‘Who is this kid?'” Benson said. “You didn’t recognize him from the other because he has such a presence on the court.”

Reesor – a sleek 6-foot-2, 180-pounder with a chiseled face and a teen-idol smile – is now the Royals’ all-time blocks leader with 358 and leads EMU during this snow-disrupted season with eight in two games.

“He’s very consistent,” said Frankie Coto, a junior middle blocker. “You always know when it’s crunch time, he’s going to be there. Again, he’s very quiet on the court, but it’s that that makes him deadly. He’s not a loud guy, but he kind of like ‘ninjas’ his way through the game.”

The Royals haven’t had many games lately because of the recent snowstorms. EMU (2-0) hasn’t played since Jan. 27, when it beat Lancaster Bible College 30-20, 30-26, 31-29.

Not surprisingly, Reesor – who appears uncommonly mature and responsible (he’s getting married in June) – found a positive in all the down time, which is scheduled to end this weekend when EMU travels to Rochester, N.Y., for a tournament at Nazareth College.

“We’ve actually had time to work on a lot of things in practice,” Reesor said. “Especially having a new setter this year, you really need to. It’s vital to get in reps with the guys – and, obviously, game situations do that. But in practice, you can really talk about it and you can really learn and teach in a more constructive way.”

It’s a common theme in his life.

A native of Stouffville, Ontario (it’s about 40 minutes north of Toronto) and the butt of numerous Canadian jokes (mostly one-liners about igloos, moose and caribou, but one elaborate conceit involves a maple syrup farm worked by squirrels and beavers), Reesor has taken three trips overseas – overwhelmingly in a service capacity.

His first was to Kenya – during the year he took off after graduating from high school – where he visited his uncle and aunt (who were working in Africa) for six weeks. In Kenya, Reesor volunteered at a community center. In the summer between his sophomore and junior year, he traveled to Israel, Palestine and Turkey with a Mennonite church group on a peace mission. This past fall, he went on a trip to South Africa as part of EMU’s cross-cultural curriculum.

Justin Reesor
Justin Reesor with new friends at Teboho Primary School in South Africa during fall 2009 cross-cultural. (Photo by Michael Spory)

And, of course, he was responsible about preparing for the study abroad program.

“I could see that he wanted to do more things with us, like hang out. But he was in his room doing work,” Coto said. “He had 18 credits, playing volleyball, trying to get all that out of the way, so he could go [to South Africa].”

While in South Africa, Reesor said, he buffed up from marathon pushup sessions and hiking the country’s mountainous topography. The added bulk is slightly unnerving considering it was power that got him noticed his freshman year, when his older sister (then a junior at EMU) encouraged him to try out for Eastern Mennonite’s volleyball team.

“This was a new experience for me being here,” said Reesor, who chose EMU because he’s Mennonite, had multiple family members attend the school and wanted to get away from home. “I didn’t know anyone, so I was kind of the scared little freshman, but my sister was actually like – she forced me to go to the first volleyball meeting.”

It was a good idea.

“We had a couple open gyms, and I realized I could play with these guys,” Reesor said.

Benson remembered the first time he realized Reesor could play. It was early in Reesor’s freshman season in 2007. Reesor went on to win the North East Collegiate Volleyball Association Western Division Rookie of the Year award.

“He absolutely crushed the ball in front of the 10-foot line, and we all kind of stopped and went, ‘Whoa,'” said Benson, in his fifth season and the father of Spotswood High standout girls’ volleyball player Alexa Benson. “Myself and everyone else on the court was shocked because this quiet freshman came in and destroyed the ball.”

Who knew?