A Long Month of Champions

Nov. 15, 2009, 10:13 p.m. (ET)

This is may be the best volleyball "month" in the year --  from late October in Wyoming to mid-December this year in Florida--  as some 49 states host district, regional and then final State High School Championships, while the NCAA and NAIA see their over 1,500 schools playoff for National Champions at the collegiate level.  My alma mater, Colorado College, a program I started as head coach back in 1971 in the old AIAW days, last night just made the Final 8 for NCAA Division III for the first time ever, as the program now run by the spirited Rick Swan adds another milestone in the journey of excellence and success.

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I spent my weekend off driving from USA Swimming Diversity Summit events at the Olympic Training Center, to the Big House youth coach training sessions, and back and forth to the Denver Coliseum, where the Colorado State Girls Volleyball Championships have been hosted for many years.  The Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) notes that out of their 336 member schools with 230,466 students, more than 57%, or 131,771 students, participate in music, speech, student leadership and athletics. Colorado's participation rate is one of the highest in the country. 

About half way between that Denver Coliseum and the Nebraska state border, lies the town of Otis, Colorado. If you search for it online, you find that Yahoo at least considers the town center to be 301 Work St. Otis, CO 80743. You find you can buy a nice house, built in 1925, for $41,000.  Plenty of open space out on the Colorado plains, at the intersection of US highway 34 and State Highway 61, as the population in 2009 is 476, counting only people, not cows.

Last year Otis lost in the finals to back to back state champs Flemming, but with that runner up lesson as freshmen, a group of sophomores who must all live on Work Street, spent the season building an undefeated record - and with all the spirit and work ethic developed so well in small towns around our nation, captured the coveted golden ball over Flemming. If I had time, I would spend the fall watching 1A and 2A volleyball in every state, for the joy and passion those athletes, their coaches and their fans display really shows the heart and soul of this wonderful sport.

This weekend also caused me to again reflect on how Sport Court flooring has been such a huge partner of USA Volleyball in growing the game for all. There now are over a hundred USAV Jr. Olympic Volleyball clubs with their own volleyball dedicated facilities. We host tournaments, qualifiers, and Nationals with 50-100 courts all under one roof.   I spent the finals with a great dad and coach, Frank Lavrisha, who has been a coaching Regis University for 23 years , and who also helped found the JOV club known as "Denver Park and Rec" that brings a great deal of diversity to the court.

He and I sat up in the stands centered on the five Sport Courts in the Coliseum, and could read the scores of every one of the five State Divisional titles being played out simultaneously.  This summer my daughter and I had the good fortune to spend time with the Lander HS program, and last weekend the Wyoming State Championships were played in Casper in this same format, for 1A to the 4A level (remember, Wyoming only has 500,000 people in the whole state...). Many other states are doing this same thing, and I reflected back to when my team got lost at the US Open in Hilo, Hawaii, driving around pineapple fields in the days before GPS systems, cell phones and Sport Court centralization, looking for our school gym we were to compete at. Now we all can watch together, college coaches can see dozens if not hundreds of potential recruits, and we can all listen to the symphony of whistles as players and referees perform their unique songs of competition, and the fans provide their own special chorus, depending on what a round ball does bouncing around back and forth over a net.   

The Colorado State High School Activities Association staged a great event, from the starting whistles on Friday, where 40 teams began their hopes to final victory, to the parade of champions and crowning of 5 State Champs from the 1A to 5A divisions. What also struck Frank and I were how the first game on every court ended within a minute of one another - having started all at the same time, and how three of the titles which went 3-0 in games, finished within a couple of minutes, so that Otis, then CSCS, then Cheyenne in sequence got their chance to hoist their "Big Gold Volleyball" championship trophy to their fans.  Rally scoring has certainly helped us stay more on time, and that is a great thing for growing the game too.

Since the USOC and USAV are in "the Springs" it was great to see the finish of our local teams. 5A Dorehty - taking third after losing a 2-1 lead to Highlands Ranch when outside hitter Kaitlyn Qualls went out with a bad hand injury. A great finish for a team seeded 8th. Ponderosa, who Dorehty beat in pool play, won after battling back from tie breaker playoffs;  4A Cheyenne Mountain, now back to back State Champions, while Lewis Palmer made the finals too. Kudos to Dave Barkley and Susan Odenbaugh;  3A Colorado Springs Christian School, making it SIX titles in a row, in a fun match over also undefeated Valley (Club One, for those who have seen their spirited defense and play over the JOV season), featuring great talent and coaching on both sides of the net; 2A Fowler - champions again in the tradition of Vin Mizer and the home of Brittany Hochevar, now with the AVP. They are down the road a bit from the Springs, but it is where I have spent a lot of time and out of the gym, for there is great upland game and waterfowl hunting in the area, and they play like their grizzly mascot in power and hunger to win.

I was talking last week with my boss, Doug Beal, and we reflected on how most in the volleyball family probably don't realize how the USAV staff not only does volleyball as our full time occupation, we are participating in the game at all levels too.  In this busy fall, staff members like Takuya Naito and Kristy Cox, come in early and leave early, in order to coach in high school programs, at a high level. Kristy's assists Dorehty High. Tak assists Cheyenne, where my daughter also plays.  Margie Mara, Tom Pingel, George Egan, Andy Pai spend many weeknights and weekend officiating at the college or high school and even junior high levels.  Doug, Tom, Kerstin Fricassini-Reff, Susan Barkley, Heath and Tori Hoke, and I all have girls and/or boys playing Jr. Olympic Volleyball for various teams. Many other staff members, with or without kids, play on area league teams and up to the US Open in age division play, and compete in doubles tournaments, even alongside our own kids.

Which leads me to another topic related to growing the game, of how more family volleyball needs to happen, from the generational picnics, to organized league play, getting mom or dad to play with sons and daughters. The way the South Pacific Islander culture has entire families sharing and teaching their youngest children, nieces and nephews alike, to play the game with the adults. We need to play more balloon volleyball in the living room with our kids of any age, and get out on the court with our own kids.

I also love the way Puerto Rico has huge family contingents cheering the kids on at Nationals and Festival. Their unified focus on the play of their children is a sight to behold.  In Denver, the fans of every school came close, and could be seen by the blocks of school colors, from faces painted to their "State Bound" shirts with team players names listed. When I looked at the Otis crowd, I wondered...who is minding the store, it looks like everyone had to be in Denver!

Congrats to all the State HS and College National Champions crowned or soon to be crowned. The drive home from Denver was in a snowstorm, and took almost three hours on treacherous roads, and watching the play over the two days and nights was worth every slippery mile. Besides, many of the USAV staff walking out in the storm next get to head to sunny Tampa in a month, to speak and work at the the NCAA Final Four/AVCA Convention, so balance will be restored. Oh, and if you have time, contact my USAV cohort Jeff Mosher if you want to get involved in the national office programming working to get Vermont to have girls high school volleyball, or any of the over 25 states to add boys. It only makes sense to have all 50 states offering a sport born in America to be played at the state level, and we can always use the assistance in growing the game.  


The following comments were made on our previous web platform and have been transferred here to maintain the historical record.

On February 21, 2010 Terry Shippy wrote

Good article. Yes, I remember Hilo and the B&B team, the difficulty of finding our court and the finals played under the tent. After watching daughter #2 in State the long drive home was slow and treacherous - 4 1/2 hrs and normally takes 2 hrs. We visited four JC schools in Wyo the cowboy state for daughter #2 on MLK weekend. It is amazing how many 2 yr schools in Wyo have good VB programs with a lot of scholie $'s. Daughter #2 decided on to play for a 2 yr school in AZ. She loves the game and everything they had to offer. Too many girls ditch the good opportunities at JC. Too bad. We are a big VB family. My wife and I met on a VB court! Our 4 girls all play VB year round (indoor and beach).....college down to MS. The only girl I pushed was the oldest and the others followed her shoes. Amazing!

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