The Oasis March Wind 14 Silver
Sunset West Spring Forward 15-18 Silver
Spikes Challenge 15-16 Gold
Warriors Spikefest 15 Silver
OMAHA – It’s not uncommon to hear a volleyball coach in Nebraska talking about goals of winning a national championship.
In Lincoln, John Cook can talk about the three national titles the Huskers have won and their consistent push for more. In downtown Omaha, Kirsten Bernthal Booth surely mentions national title expectations as she continues to guide Creighton towards college volleyball’s elite status.
UNO will soon be eligible for a shot at competing in the NCAA Division I tournament for a title, and add to that the vast number of Division II, NAIA and junior college teams in the state which consistently challenge for national championships. There certainly is no shortage of national championship talk on college campuses throughout the state.
But, tucked away in an industrial park near Interstate 80 and Giles Road in southwest Omaha, there is talk of a national championship as well. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’ll almost certainly miss The Oasis Sports Center, which occupies one bay in a large industrial warehouse. This is the home to Nebraska Impact Volleyball and this is where you can hear realistic conversation about a national championship.
“Our goal is to win nationals this year. Our goal is not just to go to nationals – it’s to win it,” Impact’s 141 Banzai coach Bo Yong said after a practice earlier this week. “I think everybody’s bought into that. They’re hungry and they want it.”
Yong knows a little about what it takes to get to nationals. His Banzai team qualified for the national championships as 11s, 12s and 13s in each of the last three seasons and is again proving to be one of the top teams in the nation this year. But their success this year has been something of a surprise to many.
Go back in time just three months – to the start of December in 2013 – there was plenty of speculation Banzai may not be good enough this year to qualify for the national tournament, let alone compete for a national title. As often happens in club volleyball, Banzai had some players leave the team. In fact, only four players came back this season with the rest joining other clubs.
When you ask Yong about it, he just kind of shrugs and chalks it up to life in club volleyball. He says he refuses to guarantee spots on the team and some players leave for other clubs rather than have to go through the tryout process to make Banzai the next year. And, as is often the case with middle-school aged athletes, abilities can change rapidly. And, if making the top team is based solely on ability and not politics, Yong said, that means there are going to be changes.
So, how did Banzai not only recover from losing so many players, but also seemingly get better? Yong credits the coachability and work ethic of the players.
“I knew I had a lot of talent here. I had no question that we would be strong because of the girls I saw at pre-tryout workouts. I knew it was better than what I had, so I knew there was no question we would be good,” Yong said. “The question was about team chemistry …. that was the only doubt in my mind. But, I have girls that will bust their butts because I tell them to and there are no questions asked.
“They work hard. Everything they do – they don’t hold back. Chemistry is the big thing. They believe in each other. They are playing position volleyball. They are playing as a team.”
Yong was also quick to credit one of the parents on the team – Mark Skiles – for helping make the chemistry work quicker. Skiles, a teacher and coach himself, took the team through a team-building exercise, which Yong said clicked for the girls right away. It stressed the importance of having a “wolf pack” mentality and, as Yong said, “surrendering me for we.”
“That’s when you become a good team,” he said.
Some of the ingredients for this year’s team came from somewhat unlikely sources as well.
Taliyah Flores, a 5-foot-8 outside hitter, came to Banzai from Sidney, Iowa, which requires a two-hour round trip for every practice.
Then there is the case of Namrata Surendranath, a 5-foot-8 middle. Just two years ago, Surendranath came to Impact for tryouts and was passed over by four different teams in the 12s division at tryouts, but Nebraska Impact Director of Operations Mike Godek saw potential in her and a handful of others that didn’t make the top four teams, and pieced together a 125 team.
Surendranath’s performance that year and continued growth in her ability vaulted her up to the Impact 132 Voodoo squad last year and this year she has progressed up to the 141 Banzai team.
Banzai also has a member on its team this year that came to Impact after being placed on a 143 team at another club’s tryouts.
Regardless how the team came together this year, it has done nothing but continue to build on the Banzai reputation. Last month the team, playing up an age level, took home first place out of 60 teams from across the country in the 15 Club division at Asics President’s Day Tournament hosted by Nebraska Elite.
This weekend, Banzai has earned the #8 seed in the 14 Open Division at the Colorado Crossroads tournament in Denver, which is a qualifier for the USA Volleyball National Championships. There are 24 teams in the Open Division competing for three bids to nationals. The Open Division is the highest level of competition and is generally reserved for the most elite teams.
Later this month Banzai will be competing in the invite-only Disney Volleyball Showcase in Orlando, Florida, in a 16-team field.
When you’ve been the best team in the region for the past three years and have developed a national reputation, Yong said it can put a lot of pressure on the team, but it only seems to make them better.
“I don’t know how (the players) deal with it, but I’m really bad. I can’t sleep at night,” Yong said. “We’ve always had a bulls-eye on our back since when we were 10s. We’re always going to get the other team’s best. That’s a lot of pressure.
“A good team can go down any day or night. All you can do is take it day-to-day and one match at a time. But, these girls, they always rise up when duty calls.”
Besides team chemistry and having a great group of team parents, Yong said probably the biggest key to his team’s success is their ability transform from typical teenagers into fierce competitors when they step on the court.
“They are giggly when they are (off the court) and just regular girls. But, when they step on the court, they are focused. Some of them don’t even smile when they are out there because they are just focused and competing,” he said. “When they are focused, they are really something else.
“We can never be good enough. We can always get better and the girls have bought into that and believe it.”
Here is the Parade of Champions for the weekend of Feb. 28-March 2. If your team takes first place in a round-robin tournament or the “gold” division of the tournament – send us your team pictures from the tournament to NebraskaPrepVolleyball@gmail.com or send it out via Twitter and include @NebHSvolleyball in your tweet.
Feb. 28 – March 2
Nebraska Juniors 161 – The JVA Showcase at Wisconsin Dells 16 Open
Premier 13 Gold – Crossroads Qualifier Warmup 13 Gold
Premier 12 Gold – Elite Sports & Fitness Classic 12 Gold
FC Juniors 12 – Seward Spikefest 12 Silver
Seward Lady Jays 14 Blue – Seward Spikesfest 14 Silver I
GI Vikes 131 – Seward Spikefest 14 Silver II
GI Islanders 12 Black – South Central Early Bird 12 Silver
GI Juniors 131 – South Central Early Bird 13 Silver
South Central NE 14 Black – South Central Early Bird 14 Silver
Club Legacy 11 Boom – Spikes Challenge 12 Silver I
G1 VBC 12 Black – Spikes Challenge 12 Silver II
Nebraska ONE 14 Legends – Spikes Challenge 14 Silver
Omaha VBVC 14 Surge – The Oasis March Madness
Nebraska Pursuit 17s – Claws Out II 18 Silver
Premier 18 Gold – Crossroads Qualifier Warm-up 18 Gold
Nebraska ONE 14 Dynomite – Elite Sports & Fitness Classic 14 Gold
Mustangs 12s – Elite Sports & Fitness Classic 12 Silver
Auburn VBC 13s – Elite Sports & Fitness Classic 13 Silver
Sunset West 12 Zoomba – Hastings Park and Rec Spring Spike 12 Silver
GI Vikes 131 – Hastings Park and Rec Spring Spike 12 Silver
Flatrock VBC 141 – Hastings Park and Rec Spring Spike 15 Silver
Hastings Tigers 17s – Hastings Park and Rec Spring Spike 17 Silver
Top Ten 121 – Sunset West Lion & Lamb 12 Silver
Attack 131 – Sunset West Lion & Lamb 14 Silver I
BVC 14 Black – Sunset West Lion & Lamb 14 Silver II
Attack 141 – Sunset West Lion & Lamb 15 Silver
Nebraska Impact 152 Velocity – Sunset West Lion & Lamb 16 Silver I
Metro 16 Navy – Sunset West Lion & Lamb 16 Silver II
Premier 14 Gold – Premier Classic 15 Gold
Premier 15 Gold – Premier Classic 16 Gold
Premier 16 Gold – Premier Classic 17 Gold
Daykin Meridian 15s – Seward Spikefest 15 Silver
Attack 162 – Seward Spikefest 16 Silver
Stangz Elite 17s – Seward Spikefest 18 Silver
A-S-H 16s – South Central Early Bird 16 Silver
GI Islanders 17 Black – South Central Early bird 18 Silver
Eagle Attack 15s – Spikes Challenge 17 Silver
Nebraska X 15s – UNK Runza Rumble 15 Tournament
Flatrock 17s – UNK Runza Rumble 17 Tournament