It might be the biggest event you’ve probably never heard about.
The Asics Show Me National Qualifier is at its midway point. The volleyball event in Kansas City will conclude this weekend with girls 12-15 age groups competing for USA Volleyball national tournament berths.
Over the last 20 years, the game of volleyball has changed tremendously. We’ve seen the institution of rally scoring, the libero and let serves (tapers as some call them) added in. And the culture of the sport has changed tremendously as well.
Club volleyball has grown at a phenomenal rate. It’s to the point to where the season, which can run from tryouts in the middle of November to the nationals in July, greatly outweighs the high school sport.
Compare club volleyball to soccer around the world. Everyone knows about the World Cup and Olympics where one plays for national pride. It’s the same with high school volleyball where the players compete for school pride. But, like in volleyball, in soccer most of the time is spent on the club level.
The casual American sports fans probably are unfamiliar with most professional soccer clubs or major European leagues, but that’s huge business overseas.
And, unless you have a family member or friend involved in the world of club volleyball, you’re probably not familiar with that intense culture.
You’ve probably never heard of some of the bigger, more established organizations in St. Louis, such as CYC, Rockwood Thunder, Team Elite St. Louis (TESL) or High Performance and others.
You’ve probably never heard of some of newer, or smaller, organizations as well, such as Show Me Volleyball Academy, Powerhitters, Southwestern Illinois, H2 and many others.
The club folks around hear might have heard of are 4Rivers, Club Washington or Mid State Force.
As opposed to the school season, the club teams have players from many different schools. Players can, and frequently do, move around from club to club from season to season.
Many of those teams either have been in Kansas City this past weekend or are headed west later this week. The Kansas City event is one of 10 qualifiers for the USAV national tournament which will be held in July in Columbus.
It only takes one stroll around a major qualifier to see the scope of club volleyball. The sport is massive, it’s huge and it’s big business.
In fact, the club volleyball scene is where most players get seen by college coaches and draw scholarship offers.
By seeing the scope of a huge tournament, such as a national qualifier, it’s not tough to see why the coaches go to the big club tournaments. There are many more players to be scouted and it’s not during the women’s college season. So, big events like the national qualifiers tend to turn into a mini AVCA convention as well.
In Kansas City, teams are vying for spots in the Open, National or American divisions in the national tournament. There will be a lot of drama and emotion.
For a select few, the event will end with a bid to the national tournament. For others, there will be the realization that the chances quickly are running out. The Far Western National Qualifier in Reno (ends April 27-29 with older groups) is the last of the qualifiers. There are regional tournaments coming up with the last chance for those teams still seeking national berths to qualify.
The nice thing about club volleyball is that there’s room for everyone. There are teams out there which have played in three or more national qualifiers. The USAV rankings system has five events marked for some teams.
There are folks who are traveling around the country just about every week.
And then there are those teams who won’t ever play at a national qualifier, choosing to stay much closer to home. These teams, including our local squads, play in a lot of tournaments in the St. Louis area, regionals and call it a season. Others don’t even get started until after basketball season is over.
The great thing is that it gives players the chance to get touches on the ball and compete a lot, or not so much.
There actually will be a tournament at East Central College Saturday, April 28. The ECC-SGA U17 Classic will give folks a chance to see some club ball without having to go to a big national qualifier or even to a St. Louis gym.
And even though you rarely hear about the teams or events, if you follow the sport, you’re going to have to follow club volleyball in the future.