|Maryland Volleyball Program 18 Red huddles during its match against Santa Monica Beach Club 18 Black.|
RENO, Nev. (June 27, 2013) – It was 7:40 a.m., and the shuttle that was supposed to take the Maryland Volleyball Program 18 Red from its hotel to the Reno-Sparks Convention Center for the USA Volleyball Boys’ Junior National Championships (BJNC) was late.
“I’m going to walk,” said Maryland Volleyball Program 18 Red Head Coach Philip Huang, hiking his backpack higher on his shoulders and setting off across the hotel parking lot. “You guys want to walk?”
Nodding and shrugging as if to say, “why not?,” Huang’s 18-year-old players slung their own backpacks over their shoulders and began the one-mile journey to the 2013 USA Volleyball Boys’ Junior National Championships.
Two hours later, fourth-seeded MVP 18 Red had defeated the Santa Monica Beach Club 18 Black, the second seed in the day’s pool, in straight sets.
“The walk must’ve helped, so we’re going to walk tomorrow!” said Huang with a laugh.
Seeded 33rd out of 36 in its age division at the BJNC, MVP 18 Red has historically been a low seed and is used to taking the difficult road at Nationals. Lower seeded teams face tougher opponents on the opening day of the tournament, and this time was no different. MVP 18 Red battled hard to defeat SMBC 18 Black, often making jaw-dropping plays to stay alive.
A ball just barely nudged over the net that fell between two SMBC 18 Black defenders. A running, sprawling dive to save a ball knocked five feet out of bounds.
“They’re scrappy,” remarked a parent of an SMBC 18 Black player while watching MVP 18 Red play. “Really scrappy.”
“The first match we opened really strong,” said MVP 18 Red libero Ricci Huang. “We kind of were like, ‘this is our last nationals, so let’s play our best.’”
“We were all on point,” agreed defensive specialist Andrew He. “We made very few errors. So we did really well, and we were really happy going into [our match against] Balboa Bay [18 Hurley]. And then… Balboa Bay happened.”
Scrappiness could only get MVP 18 Red so far, as the team fell in straight sets to Balboa Bay 18 Hurley, the first seed in the pool and fourth overall. But winning isn’t everything to the boys who feel fortunate to even be in Reno at all.
“We’ve been really lucky to get an open bid all the way since 14s here, and even though we don’t do so well, the opportunity to play some of the best teams in the nation is really awesome,” said Huang. “We’re going to play a lot of volleyball, and that’s what I’m here for. A lot of volleyball at the highest level.”
Huang has competed at USA Volleyball Boys’ Junior National Championships for six years and is having trouble wrapping his mind around the fact that this is his last hurrah.
“It’s very surreal,” he said. “I feel like after it’s done I’m going to be expecting it next year, but it’s not going to happen. I’m going to miss it a lot.”
He, on the other hand, just started playing club volleyball this season and is making his first trip to nationals.
“It’s a really good experience, ‘cause before I would play at a bunch of clinics, not with a structured team like this,” said He. “And this showed me a lot about how to be a teammate and how to be a leader.”
No matter how well MVP 18 Red plays at the BJNC, Coach Huang wants his players to get the most out of their time at nationals.
“They’re all 18 so this is the last year, so I want to let everyone play and get the chance to get the nationals experience,” he said.