Tournaments — regardless of the sport — are always a grind and test of will and character.
Depending on the sport, athletes are asked to play games in consecutive days, or in the case of some of the teams from Winter Park Volleyball Club, several games in a day.
That was the case in this year’s 45th AAU Girls’ and Boys’ Junior National Volleyball Championships, which were held in Orlando.
Although the tournament is still ongoing for the 16U squad, WPVC has had multiple teams finish in the top five of their respective categories — and that truly excites Aaron Phillips, the club’s director and a coach at WPVC.
“The success is watching them go against the big monster clubs, and you know, they’re showing and placing just like they are,” Phillips said. “It’s just a great tournament.”
WPVC sent 17 different teams alone — from their 11U to 18U teams — and each has had a varying level of success.
The 12U Elite Black squad moved through the first three rounds with relative ease. They went 10-0 before falling in three sets to OTVA’s 12U Longwood Cristobal team in the first round of the gold bracket. Despite the exit, the 12Us finished in fifth place out of the 76 teams competing.
Along with the 12U team, the 18U Elite Black also a had a strong run through nationals. In the first three days of the tourney, the 18U team reeled off nine consecutive wins before taking a tumble in a two-set loss against the Illinois-based Sports Performance 18 Blue team in the third round.
The loss didn’t hamper WPVC long. That same day, the team picked up two more wins. The next day, the 18U squad bowed out of the gold bracket but still finished at 9-2 — good enough to land at the No. 5 spot in the field of 71.
But of all of WPVC’s teams, none had a better tournament than the 15U Elite Black unit, which went 14-1 and won the consolation bracket in an epic three-set match against Lions Woodridge 15-1.
After a nine-game win streak to start the tournament, the 15U team fell in a tough game against Goldenest 15 Black in the fourth round challenge, but what happened next was a pure show of will.
On Sunday, June 24, the 15U team won five straight games between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. — with the final win coming in the consolation bracket’s championship game. The 15U side dropped the first set 17-25 but rallied to take the second set by a razor thin 25-22 margin and the third and final set by a 15-9 score.
Thanks to its late-tournament rally, the 15U team finished in 18th place — out of 171 teams — a stat made more impressive when considering the early setback this team had faced going into nationals.
“The thing that I liked about 15 Black is that we lost a player to a key injury — that put her out the rest of the season — and then we had another key player just decide that she felt like the team wasn’t making her any better, so she decided to quit,” Phillips said. “And one of our back-up girls … her family had a trip planned before they signed up for the club, so this team ends up doing the best — as far as finishing — for the whole club so far.”
While the 16U team finishes up at nationals, Phillips and the WPVC will be staying busy as they prepare for upcoming tournaments.
“I was proud of our girls — they played extremely hard — and so now we are geared up for USA Nationals in Detroit,” Phillips said. “So we have our 11 Elite Black, 12 Elite Black and 18 Elite Black all playing in Detroit for the next four days.
“Then we fly from Detroit to our boy’s junior national championships,” he said. “There’s a lot of good things happening right now.”