Denver Sitting Volleyball Challenge Provides Good Test

By Bill Kauffman | March 10, 2014, 12:07 p.m. (ET)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (March 10, 2014) – The U.S. Women’s National Sitting Volleyball Team will host the four-team 2014 Denver Sitting Volleyball Challenge March 14-16 at the Colorado Convention Center with a built-in junior audience competing in the Colorado Crossroads national qualifying tournament in the same venue.

Team USA, ranked second in the world for women’s sitting volleyball, hosts top-ranked China, No. 5 Brazil and No. 7 Russia in one of the top tournament fields ever assembled outside the Paralympic Games or World Championships. Each team will play five matches in the three-day tournament.

China has won the last three Paralympic Games gold medals in 2004, 2008 and 2012 with the U.S. finishing with the silver medal in 2008 and 2012. However, the Americans earned their first-ever tournament win over the Chinese to win the Moscow Cup last August. Russia is the current European champion after defeating No. 3 Ukraine in its zone championship. Brazil will host the 2016 Paralympic Games.

“It is definitely a strong field of teams with China and ourselves,” U.S. Women’s National Sitting Volleyball Team Head Coach Bill Hamiter said. “Russia is maybe one of the most improved teams in the world over the last two years, and they certainly showed that in beating Ukraine in the European Championships last year. Brazil being in our zone is a team we see more often than other teams. They are improving more and more, especially as they prepare to host in Rio. Most likely these teams in Denver, along with Ukraine and possibly Slovenia or Netherlands, are teams that I would say could end up in the semifinals at this year’s World Championship.”

The Denver Sitting Volleyball Challenge serves as an early season test for all four teams who will be competing in the 2014 ParaVolley World Championships June 6-23 in Poland. Team USA qualified for the world event by winning the gold medal over Brazil at the 2013 ParaVolley Pan American Sitting Volleyball Zonal Championship in October 2013.

“It is always good for us to play good teams, and really good for us to be able to play a very high-caliber competition like this before World Championships,” Hamiter said. “One of our hardest problems is having teams we can compete against because we don’t get to play that much, but also compete against teams that force us to play every single point and every single play showing those little things really do matter.”

The U.S. opens the event against Russia on March 14 at 11 a.m., followed by a 6 p.m. match against nemesis China. Team USA challenges ParaPan rival Brazil on March 15 at 11 a.m., followed by a second match against Russia at 6 p.m. The Americans will face China a second time on March 16 at 8 a.m. U.S. players will participate in an autograph session after each Team USA match.

Team USA’s victory over China last summer provided the team a shot in the arm knowing the top team in the world is not invisible.

“It has given us some confidence above what we already had. It allows us to know that our efforts are paying off, and that has helped our training,” Hamiter said. “We are hoping to take that into these matches and gain more confidence out of that.”

As the event is being held in conjunction with Colorado Crossroads, thousands of junior volleyball players will be exposed to the sport of sitting volleyball. Colorado Crossroads is one of 11 national qualification events into the USA Volleyball Girls’ Junior National Championships.

“We always look at promoting the discipline,” Hamiter said. “Having this Challenge at an event like Crossroads puts the discipline in front of a number of different individuals so that it continues to grow the sport. It always helps to have more eyes out and about in the U.S. to continue to identify possible athletes to play the game. Whether somebody might end up on the National Team, we want to promote the sport. People of all kinds of physical attributes can play this game.”

Aside from promoting the discipline, Hamiter believes the event being held in conjunction with Crossroads provides a tangible benefit for the five teams competing in the Challenge series.

“This event being played at Crossroads is also good for the five sitting teams there so we can get used to playing in front of crowds,” Hamiter said. “It will be similar to what we will experience when we get to the World Championships.”

U.S. Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team Roster
1 – Lora Webster (Phoenix, Ariz.)
2 – Bethany Zummo (Dublin, Calif.)
3 – Lexi Shifflet (Waseca, Minn.)
4 – Michelle Schiffler (Lake Wales, Fla.)
5 – Katie Holloway (Lake Stevens, Wash.)
6 – Heather Erickson (Fayetteville, N.C.)
7 – Monique Burkland (Ardmore, Okla.)
8 – Angela DeHaan Palacio (Sacramento, Calif.)
9 – Abby Mueller (Houston, Texas)
13 – Nicole Millage (Champaign, Ill.)
14 – Kaleo Kanahele (Oklahoma City, Okla.)
16 – Nicky Nieves (Kissimmee, Fla.)
Head Coach: Bill Hamiter
Assistant Coaches: Cara Lang, Quinton Kraeer
Team Manager: Elliot Blake
Therapist/Trainer: Kazuma Akehi
Doctor: Laura Finch
Statistician: Jeff Hicks

Denver Sitting Volleyball Challenge Schedule (all times MT)
March 14 (Session 1): Brazil vs. China at 9 a.m.; USA vs. Russia at 11 a.m.
March 14 (Session 2): Brazil vs. Russia at 4 p.m.; USA vs. China at 6 p.m.
March 15 (Session 3): China vs. Russia at 9 a.m.; USA vs. Brazil at 11 a.m.
March 15 (Session 4): Brazil vs. China at 4 p.m.; USA vs. Russia at 6 p.m.
March 16 (Session 5): USA vs. China at 8 a.m.; Brazil vs. Russia at 10 a.m.