We have received some questions about club volleyball and rather than address each one individually, I’d like to address all of them in one response. Some of the general thoughts were if it matters which club you play for, which team (first, second, third) you are on, if a bigger, well-known club is preferred to a smaller club, etc. I will address as much as I can in this one article and hopefully I can provide a little insight into my take on club volleyball and the opportunities it presents.
I’ll start it off with a bang and say that ultimately I don’t care which club you play for or for which team you compete. Of course it’s nice to land a kid from the top team of one of the major national clubs like Northern Lights in Minnesota. I was watching them at the President’s Day Tournament in Omaha recently, and I soon found myself standing next to Minnesota’s Hugh McCutcheon, Wisconsin’s Kelly Sheffield, and Iowa State’s Christy Johnson-Lynch. At that point I realized I wasn’t going to get any of the kids on that court. And for that reason, I like to see the less-prestigious clubs in an attempt to find, as one of my colleagues would be pleased to hear me say, a “diamond in the rough”.
Of the 15 players on the Iowa Western roster last year, one of them played for a high-level club. Now, three of them (including the one aforementioned) are being looked at by four-year schools of major conferences (B1G, Big 12, Big East, SEC) and numerous mid-level conferences. One of those three student-athletes played for a good local club and one didn’t play club at all. In summary, those three have completely different club scenarios, yet all of them were key contributors for us and now have very good opportunities with four-year schools.
Most top-25 ranked NCAA schools bring in three or four kids each year, and they are the best of the best. Most of these kids play on nationally-recognized clubs. If you are one of the few young players to be on one of the premier club teams in the nation, congratulations, that’s definitely an accomplishment. For the rest, and majority, of you, don’t worry about the credentials of your club. The more you play, the better you will get, so the key is to get as many reps as you can. Current players at Iowa Western competed for local clubs such as Top Ten, Omaha Wave, Premier, Sunset West, and River City Juniors. Congratulations to one of these, Reiver libero Madison Halterman, who just signed on full scholarship to play for Division I Tennessee State next season, a member of the Ohio Valley Conference. Regardless of the level of your club and which team you are on, the key is to play. How you play will speak far louder than anything else.
I encourage every kid to not get stuck on any one idea, primarily the thought of “I’m going DI”. In data from 2008, there were 312 NCAA Division I schools, 265 NCAA Division II schools, 411 NCAA Division III schools, 251 NAIA schools, and 269 junior college schools offering women’s collegiate volleyball (http://www.volleyball.org/college/#WOMENS). That’s 1,508 schools. If each team averages 15 players, that’s a total of 22,620 young women playing college volleyball. I think that shows you have a good opportunity to play somewhere, regardless of your club team. The more you play, the better you get, and eventually someone will notice.
Most high school athletes don’t go to their dream scenario- do you have any idea how many kids dream of playing for Penn State? Penn State brought in four freshmen in 2013: three defensive specialists and one middle. I do not know these four young ladies, the coaching staff, or anyone associated with Penn State; I’m speaking strictly of my knowledge of NCAA volleyball. D1 can give a full scholarship to 12 individuals. Penn State has 19 players on the roster and I am assuming that all four of these freshmen were of the seven walk-ons. Obviously these four have dreamed of being a Nittany Lion since they were little girls; congratulations to them for accomplishing such a rare feat that so many want and winning a national championship in year one. What happened to all the other kids they recruited that coveted one of those four spots? I have no idea, but I’m confident that they are all playing somewhere on full scholarship as a four-year starter. Perhaps they didn’t go to Penn State because they wanted to start all four years, liked an academic program better at another institution, or didn’t like the coaching staff and the way they interacted with players. All of those are valid reasons not to enroll somewhere. But if those four freshmen dreamed of winning a national title as part of Penn State Volleyball, then they have accomplished their goal. Whatever their ambition, they will forever be inked as a member of the 2013 NCAA Division I National Champion.
My point in all of this is that it is important to play as much as you can. Entertain each coach that contacts you and don’t shut any doors too soon. Be courteous to everyone. A lot of us coaches know each other. If you’re short and inconsiderate with me, I’m going to share that with other coaches that I know are interested in you. You want good things to be said about you within the volleyball community. Most high school students aren’t fortunate enough to have the opportunity to earn a college scholarship. Be grateful for the opportunity and keep all of your doors open. I’m going to give a shout-out here to the Golden Bears of Concordia St. Paul (MN) and Head Coach Brady Starkey, who just won their seventh consecutive NCAA Division II National Championship (http://www.cugoldenbears.com/sports/2013/12/23/VB_1223131753.aspx?path=wvball). What student-athlete wouldn’t want the chance to be a part of that kind of greatness?
Brent Lewis serves as the head coach for Top Ten Volleyball Club and is the assistant coach for NJCAA D1 Iowa Western Community College. He arrived at Iowa Western in May 2013 after spending the previous two seasons as an assistant coach at NCAA D3 Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas where he received his Master’s degree in Kinesiology.
The 2013 Iowa Western team went 44-5 and earned a seventh place finish at the National Tournament after being ranked as high as #2 during the season. The team won the Region XI and District D titles en route to the National Tournament appearance. With his assistance the Reivers led the nation in kills and assists as well as finishing seventh in total digs. In his two years at HSU he helped the team to a 58-10 overall record, 38-3 record in the American Southwest Conference, two conference titles, and two NCAA regional tournament appearances. The Cowgirls led the conference in kills and assists both years he was on staff. Following the 2012 season HSU was named American Southwest Conference Coaching Staff of the Year.
In three years as an assistant coach at the collegiate level he has amassed a record of 102-15. He has been a part of two school record winning streaks, first with the 2012 HSU squad that won 25 straight games and then again in 2013 with an IWCC team that tied the school record with 33 consecutive victories. He has coached a total of eight All-Conference players, one conference MVP, five All-Region players, and three All-Americans. A bizarre fact he is not real fond of is that three times his team has blown a 13-8 lead in the fifth set (it happened a fourth time but the team managed to hold on for the win).
A majority of his work lies in the statistical and analytical realm. While a graduate student he wrote a Master’s thesis entitled “Discovering Success in Volleyball: An Integral Match Analysis of the Relationship between Statistics and Team Rankings” which compared general statistics to team records in order to determine the most significant numbers for predicting the outcome of a win/loss record. He most recently finished a paper where he proposed a new statistic to measure a hitter’s effectiveness.
A native of Marshall, Texas, Brent was a hitter on the men’s club team at East Texas Baptist University where he received his Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication. He lives in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
You may email Brent at email@example.com with any questions or items you would like to see him write about.
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.”