That’s how long it takes to cap a club volleyball season.
It seems rather trivial to concentrate something as substantial as the USA Volleyball Girls Junior National Championships in Columbus, Ohio, down to one simple phrase.
I had the fortune last week to attend the USA Volleyball national tournament with Show Me Volleyball Academy’s 15 Elite team.
And in the four days that our team played in the 15 National Division, one could see every emotion in the ups and downs of the different teams. Emotions ran high as each team tried to end the season with a victory and end up playing on the main courts.
Just looking around and observing was better than reality television. And, for many of the good folks of Columbus who were without electricity and other comforts of home, it would have made great entertainment and a way to get out of the heat.
Not everyone got to play on the stadium-like Court 1 and its towering stands, booming PA system, announcers and everything else to make it a memorable event. Nor did most get the chance to play on Court 2 and its fantastic court located in the shadow of the Court 1.
Our team had the fortune to be able to play within a long shanked pass from Court 2, but we ended up in the far distant corner of Court 48, where our national championship hopes came to an end on Independence Day.
Losing three matches that day sealed our fate to playing in Flight 1 on the final day of the tournament. Our girls finished strong by bringing home the Flight 1 championship (21st place) and the plaque which went with it. It was a great way to end a season which had started back in November.
I was proud for our players, Paige Perego (Parkway West), Claire Harman (Lafayette), Amy Kindt (Marquette), Jordan Kriete (Borgia), Molly Fox (Marquette), Grace Haselhorst (John Burroughs), Amanda Noel (Lafayette), Hannah Cherry (St. Joseph’s Academy) and Bethany Besancenez (St. Joseph’s Academy). It was amazing to see them conclude the season with one final reward.
The whole season was a great one for everyone involved with many memorable moments.
Over the four days of the tournament, SMVA 15 Elite played both semifinal losers, Northern Lights 15-2 and Club One 15 Black as well as fifth-place team Arizona Storm 15 Thunder (Club One and Arizona Storm were two of the losses on Independence Day), 11th-place finisher Black Swamp 15 Oberst and 19th-place Excel NW 15 Team Rox.
Our team put itself into something of a hole on the first day, going 1-2, but came back to win twice on the second day to remain alive for the championship.
Our team’s head coach, Union High School graduate Shane Allen, knows what it takes to win a title as he did two seasons ago. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the year for him to lead another group of eager athletes onto the medal podium again.
All we had to do was win one match on the third day, July 4, to be able to continue in the Gold Bracket.
Losing three times put the hopes to play on one of the main courts on hold. Nope, it would be something on the back wall for our matches on the final day.
Give the athletes and coaches credit. They bounced back to knock off SWVBC of Milwaukee and A5 Mizuno 15-2 Earl to win the Flight 1 title and leave the Greater Columbus Convention Center with something other than a souvenir T-shirt and the small trinkets exchanged between teams at the start of every match.
I don’t think it was a major surprise that Iowa Rockets 15R won the National Division title. Our team provided officials for a few of their matches and had played them before. They looked unbeatable and they were able to sustain that momentum over the full four days of the tournament, beating Sunshine 15 South Bay for the title.
I know there were a number of other area athletes at the event in the different age groups as I ran into several area residents at the event. If that’s any indication, volleyball indeed is alive and well in this area.
If there was one thing I would like to see, it would be shortening the season though. Most clubs hold tryouts in middle or late November and start playing around the new year. So, that meant that most of the teams at the nationals had been together for over seven months and had been playing for over six.
But the break between the regional and national tournaments seems to be the real problem. The Gateway Region USA Volleyball event was played in early May. That meant that there was a little under two months between that event and the national tournament.
Hitting the middle or end of May usually means reaching a desolate time without many events. There was the Battle for the Arch Tournament which took place in early June (after most schools let out). But there just seems to be some form of disconnect between the end of regionals and the start of nationals.
I know that practice schedules tend to change around somewhat with school reaching its end and the start of summer. It almost seems there’s a loss of the same school-practice structure that was in place during the club season. Something is different.
Teams tend to lose focus. And those teams usually are the first to depart from the championship pools at the national tournament. You’ve got to stay mentally focused and physically sharp from the first whistle at the national event to have a chance.
I believe that if the season was shortened, even if by a few weeks, there would be a better sense of getting the teams at their peak. I know USA Volleyball has to work around potential school conflicts, but there’s got to be a way to get this done in a more efficient manner.
All things considered, it was a great experience to be able to go to the national tournament and one I would be happy to have again.