From junior high rookies to collegiate hopefuls, club volleyball participation has become the rule not the exception.
How big is club volleyball – also referred to as Junior Olympic or JO volleyball?
The Dayton Juniors Presidents’ Day Cup – which wrapped up play in Dayton and Columbus on Sunday – included 402 teams, representing 80 clubs, from seven states and Canada. And that was just one of several major club volleyball tournaments held in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan over the weekend.
These tournaments are a win-win-win for the players, club coaches and collegiate coaches alike.
“The athletes get to compete against other players at a high level and it’s also a learning experience for the coaches who want to improve and see what other teams do,” Dayton Juniors coach Howard Garcia said. “And the college coaches get to see all of these players in one place.”
But it’s not without some sacrifice as club volleyball begins in December – not long after the high school season finishes – and kicks into full gear in January. The season can run until July, less than a month before high school volleyball gets underway.
Whether it’s a love of the game or a desire to earn a Division I scholarship, the number of club volleyball participants is growing as is the level of competition.
Garcia has seen the growth of club volleyball firsthand since he began coaching in 1985.
“I remember the days when there was one club in Dayton, one in Columbus and a couple in Cincinnati,” he said. “It has blossomed to the extent that most of the high school and, even, junior high volleyball players are playing club now.”
There are now no fewer than half a dozen clubs from Urbana to Mason alone.
Renee DeGraff, an Air City Chicks head coach and Alter High School assistant coach, has seen a significant increase in the number of Knights players coming in with club experience in her 17 years of high school coaching.
“As the level of play has increased, the players have realized they need this experience to be competitive,” DeGraff said. “The better-skilled players are the ones who make the high school teams.”
Having a club volleyball player in the family means a certain level of commitment by the entire family – a commitment of time and money. With player fees, uniforms and travel, the expenses can quickly add up. There are multiple practices a week and two or more tournaments a month, many of which are out of town.
“It’s very much a sacrifice by the whole family to do this for her,” Jill Mitch said. “But she has lived and breathed volleyball since she was born and we’ve received much more than we’ve put into it.”
Mitch’s daughter, Ally Duncan, of Catholic Central, will receive a partial scholarship to play at the University of Findlay in the fall.
Duncan’s Dayton Juniors teammate Liz Campbell, a Springfield Shawnee senior, earned a scholarship to Robert Morris University.
“There is definitely a big commitment by the players and their families,” Liz’s father John Campbell said. “But time and effort does pay off.”
And it isn’t just about the scholarships.
“The high quality of play, and always being challenged, those are big benefits of playing club,” Mitch said.
The next level
“We probably recruit 90 or, even, 95 percent of our kids from club volleyball,” Miami University assistant coach Chuck Rey said. “And, even then, only about one percent of club level players earn D-I scholarships.”
Events like the Presidents’ Cup are ideal scouting grounds for college coaches. According to Garcia, as many as 100 coaches attend the two-day tournament annually. It’s a matter of quality and quantity.
“I can see a ton of really good players in one place,” Wittenberg head coach Paco Labrador said. “It’s a good, smart move especially for a D-III school.”
Danielle Miller, now a Dayton Juniors assistant coach, vividly remembers her days playing volleyball at the Presidents’ Cup with her Lancaster club a decade ago. Miller credits her club experience with getting the opportunity to play at Urbana University.
“Playing club helped me tremendously in terms of getting looked at,” she said. “And, as a coach, now I want to help get my kids recruited.”
Many local club players have served, set or spiked their ways into the collegiate ranks.
Air City Chicks who will play in college next season include Alter’s Jocelyn Meyer (Harvard) and Natalie Seiler (Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne), Chaminade Julienne’s Beth Stumpf (Slippery Rock), Centerville’s Maggie Schutter (University of Dayton) and Beavercreek’s Madison Johnson (Alderson-Broaddus). Dayton Juniors who will be suiting up in the fall include Springfield Shawnee’s Campbell (Robert Morris), Catholic Central’s Duncan (University of Findlay), Miamisburg’s Kelsey Myers (Ursuline College) and Northmont’s Kennedey Schmidt (University of Wisconsin- Parkside).
“If a kid takes advantage of this opportunity, puts in the time and really wants to play, there are opportunities to play in college,” Garcia said.
But scholarships are only one of the many perks of the club volleyball experience.
“There is so much more than that,” DeGraff said. “These girls are making lifelong friends and learning important values for life.”