These two adorable gay college volleyball teammates are ready for their closeup

These two adorable gay college volleyball teammates are ready for their closeup

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Two out gay volleyball players arrived in a small city about 50 miles northeast of Indianapolis. And it’s the best decision they’ve ever made.

Xander Pink and Cameron Gray didn’t just find a competitive team at Ball State University. They found family.

Ball State Daily, the school’s student newspaper, recently profiled multiple out athletes on campus. As a freshman, Gray said he was apprehensive about beginning college as an out gay man.

But his fears were quickly abated when he saw the open culture on campus. Having an older, out teammate probably didn’t hurt, either.

“Since I have been here, it has been great,” he said. “Everybody is accepting. I can be my absolute self and do not have to worry about anyone saying anything.” 

A top recruit out of high school, Gray started playing volleyball in eighth grade. He won a USA Volleyball National Championship in his age-17 campaign, and was named an All-American the following year, when he led his Orland-area high school to runner-up status.

Playing libero, Gray is already one of the most skilled passers on the squad. He’s recorded 38 digs and played in 30 sets this year.

Pink also plays libero, meaning he and Gray have plenty of room for collaboration. A Hawaiian native, Pink says he came out in high school, when he was giving a speech about sensitive topics. He was assigned to talk about the LGBTQ+ community, and that provided him with the opening to say his truth.

“[I was] a little bit nervous, [it was] kind of scary, but a lot of my friends came up to me afterward and they were super supportive,” he said.

It’s been the same way at Ball State. Fun and flamboyant, Pink also attracts a crowd to the Cardinals’ matches. He’s a performer, darling!

“It’s funny and entertaining. And sometimes some people might think it’s a little much,” he said. “I get excited. In that moment, you don’t care.”

Donan Cruz, the team’s head coach, says Pink is must-watch

“Xander’s the man,” he said in an interview. “His energy that he brought when he played when we would go to these club tournaments, people would really flood these courts. Wherever Xander is playing, there’s always a big crowd around.”

That certainly tracks with Pink’s high school experience. He was a star at Punahou High School near Honolulu, and made the winning play to secure his team the national championship in 2021.

Then it was off to college, where he’s only continued to win.

The Cardinals have won three straight the the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) regular season titles, including the conference tournament in 2022. They were the No. 10-ranked men’s team in the nation this season, enjoying yet another 20-win season. (Lindenwood beat them in the MIVA tournament Thursday.)

Gray says his Cardinals teammates have been “nothing but loving and caring,” and credits the club’s open atmosphere with the rising number of out volleyball stars.

“Men’s volleyball is a sport that does have a good amount of LGBTQ+ people, so over the years it has gotten very normalized,” he said. “ Now that more people are starting to come out, it is just the culture of the sport–caring, open, accepting and supportive.” 

Perhaps no player personifies the sport’s new era than Merrick McHenry, one of the best players in the country at UCLA. He won his conference’s Player of the Year award, and is aiming to compete in the Olympics this summer.

Growing up in Texas, McHenry didn’t necessarily feel comfortable in high school. But that changed once he arrived at UCLA, and started playing for the Bruins.

“[To] be a gay man and grow up in Texas … I just felt out of place,” he told the Los Angeles Times last year. “To be able to be around people who still love me despite what a lot of parts of the world might see as different … it’s a journey and it still is a journey but I think I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my own skin as a 22-year-old nowadays. I think it’s only just going to get better for me.”

The same can be said for Pink and Gray. They definitely have the right mindsets.

Pink says he’s not worried about rejection, which is one of the most important traits any athlete can have.

“If there’s somebody looking at me, I’ll be like, ‘Let’s put on a show. If they want to look, let’s give them something to watch,’” he said. “If you’re going to stare at me, I might as well make it entertaining.”

Mission accomplished! We’ll be watching for Ball State (and UCLA) this Sunday, when the championship selection show airs.


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