I love high school volleyball because I feel like I am playing for something bigger than myself. Representing your school is amazing; it’s all about school pride and having fun competing. You get to play with your classmates and together compete in front of a home crowd full of cheering “Noise Boyz!” Your friends can actually watch you play without having to drive two hours.
Of course, we have to conquer tryouts, which is the most stressful part of the experience.
I interviewed three high school volleyball coaches from some of the top programs in the country to get their advice on how to prepare for the tryouts. All three programs have competitive tryouts with many girls vying for limited spots.
Here’s what they had to say:
Pat McDougall, La Costa Canyon (Carlsbad, Calif.)
We are looking for volleyball skills and physical talents. Height, speed and vertical jump are important for front-row players. Back-row players need to be quick and strong. In younger players we are interested in potential. In older players that potential needs to be realized. Attitude is very important. We want driven players who make their teammates better. It takes a combination of someone who plays volleyball because they love the sport and has the physical talent to excel. We're looking for players who respect authority and are easy to communicate with. We want girls who have the proper attitude to follow team rules and bring honor to the team and the school.
How do you decide between the last two girls for a team?
Attitude is generally the most important factor. The last girl picked is probably not a starter, so we need someone who will practice hard every day and morally support the team and be willing to help any way she can, even though she might not get much playing time.
What advice do you have for girls who want to stand out?
If you want to stand out at tryouts and you're not 6-foot-4 with a 30-inch jump, I suggest you hustle during every drill. Pay attention and be involved even if you're not the one being evaluated. Talk a lot during game speed drills and smile as much as you can. Girls who love to play are the most successful.
Jennifer Kazmierski, Lake Travis (Austin,Texas)
We typically get about 65-70 girls to show up for tryouts. We carry four teams with roughly 12 per team.
What are the main things you look for?
Skill, attitude and being coachable are all great things. I also look at versatility, how they work with others, competitiveness, effort and passion for the game. It’s hard to rate the intangibles, but they are so vital to a team and a program’s success.
When you are down to the last two girls for a team, what is usually the deciding factor?
Versatility -- can they play more than one position? Attitude and effort, and skill or potential skill.
What advice do you have for girls who want to stand out at tryouts?
Set yourself apart by giving great effort, listen and be coachable, hustle everywhere, and prepare ahead of time by being in shape and volleyball ready. Know the skills and characteristics needed for your position and be willing to play anywhere the coach and team may need you.
Brennan Dean, Torrey Pines (San Diego, Calif.)
First, skill. We look for girls with the best skills and who can help a team win and earn points. Potential. If there is a girl who we believe we can train and can help the team throughout the season, we would want her. Also, attitude. We want girls who have good team chemistry, good morals and girls who other kids want to play with. Finally, good team players. Girls who think selflessly and focus on the team as a whole rather than only being concerned with themselves.
How do you choose between the last two girls?
Statistics. Numbers tell a story, and we may look at outside hitter efficiency, or with liberos serve receive. Attitude. Positive teammates are wanted teammates.
What advice do you have for girls who want to stand out at tryouts?
Don't come to tryouts rusty. Make sure to get in the gym with private coaching or camps before tryouts. That way you can be confident with all of your ball skills. You want to be noticed in the first day because by the time the last day of tryouts comes it might be too late. Wear something noticeable. Big headband. Bright shirt. It just helps to set you apart. Make sure to work hard and not only be friendly to the other girls but the coaches as well. Hellos and thank yous go a long way.
Good luck to everyone trying out for high school season!
Read the previous installment of Cosy's blog – on the merits of college camps – here.
Muno, who will be a sophomore at Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks, Calif.), became the first athlete to claim the "triple crown" of junior beach volleyball when she won the three major tournaments on the AAU National Tour in the same year.
The 16-year-old from Hermosa Beach, Calif., played with a different partner at each stop.
Muno teamed with Sydney Bast of Upland, Calif., to win the AAU Beach Volleyball National Championships in Hermosa Beach July 14-15. Then, playing alongside Raeanne Greisen of San Diego, Muno won the AAU West Coast Junior Olympic Games in Hermosa Beach July 28-29. This past weekend, Muno and Gianna Guinasso of Huntington Beach, Calif, won the AAU Best of the Beach in Santa Monica, Calif.
Click here for more on AAU beach volleyball.
Cosy Burnett is a top 2013 volleyball recruit from Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. She plays outside hitter and opposite for La Costa Canyon (Carlsbad, Calif.) and Coast Volleyball Club in San Diego. She has competed in the California State Finals and at Nationals for the past five years. She recently committed to play for BYU. In the latest installment of her blog, she runs down the benefits of attending college camps.
Meet the head coaches
Make sure you introduce yourself to the head coach at the beginning of camp if you want them watching you. You can get a really good feel for the coach at camp. I like to watch how coaches treat their players, their recruits and the little kids. Watching the coach at camp may help you decide whether the program is a good fit for you.
Wear a bright headband or something else to stand out in the crowd. It’s also a good idea to show your volleyball experience with your apparel, so wear you club shirt or your Junior Nationals or AAU shirt to show the coaches what kind of volleyball you play.
They are looking for your talent and athleticism, so don’t be afraid to show them. If you can put balls away, then let it rip! If you have some sweet setting hands, then lay out the sugar! If you are a digging phenomenon, then be loud and aggressive and pas it up! Also, coaches like to see what hitters can do with bad sets. They want to see how you handle yourself and your different shot ranges. Hitters, be prepared for this because often college camps will have a separate week for setters and, like I was one year, you may be stuck with a middle blocker setting the balls.
I talked to a couple top volleyball college coaches who run big camps every summer. Here is their advice on how to stand out from the hundreds of other girls at camp:
John Cook, head coach, University of Nebraska: Work hard, look coaches in the eye, be coachable and make adjustments.Talk and be a great teammate.
Tim Nollan, associate head coach, USC: There are three things to help you stand out to college coaches at camps. First, have a positive attitude. It may sound simple, but a positive attitude toward yourself and others is a trait coaches look for. Second, effort. Try the techniques the coaches are asking you to perform, even if they take you out of your comfort zone. Coaches are always looking for players who are trying to learn more about the game. Finally, enthusiasm. You have to provide a spark for your court. Encourage others and drive your court to be better. It’s a trait every coach loves.
You get to stay in the dorms, eat the dorm food and explore the campus. You’ll be there during summer, when it’s quiet, but you can still get a good feel for what the school is about.
Make lifelong friends
You will be surrounded by tons of other girls who love the same sport you do. Take advantage of that and make some great friends. Room with someone random. Pepper with people you don’t know and introduce yourself to everyone. Sit next to new people during lunch. I love going to national tournaments and seeing or playing against girls I met at camps.
Read the previous installment of Cosy's blog – on her thoughts on nationals – here.
The only things keeping me cool as I walked back to the hotel last Friday in 95-degree heat were the ice packs secured to most of my moving body parts. We were so close to that championship court at the USA Volleyball Girls' Junior National Championships in Columbus, Ohio! Literally, we had our last game on the court right next to it. Fifth place! My thoughts were flooded with the “what ifs,” which only made me more upset.
So why do we do this?
Why do thousands of people spend thousands of dollars, travel thousands of miles to a hot Midwestern town over the Fourth of July, and spend their days navigating through a convention-hall maze packed with volleyball thrill-seekers tripping over half empty water bottles if only one team really goes home happy?
I thought about this on the flight home and came up with the following reasons to explain our insanity:
1. Level of play
It is there and only there that we can really face the best teams from across the country. Teams rise to their greatest potential and the competition is thrillingly fierce. It’s at the GJNC where you test your physical strength and mental stamina to see if you have what it takes to reach that middle podium and have the gold medal draped over your sweaty uniform. When you get there, you know that you have beaten the best, which now makes you the best.
The organizers do a good job of trying to keep things light at GJNC with photo-op corners and goofy mascots roaming the courts. My favorite thing is observing the crazy volleyball culture, which we’re all a part of. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, there’s always something new. This year, I witnessed a volleyball mom taking her role to a new level. We were refereeing and I was doing books while my teammate was keeping score. After about 10 points, we realized that one of the moms was showing us the score on her iPad from across the court to make sure we were on task. I dared my teammate to flip the number for the wrong side. … Instead we snapped a photo.
3. National end-of-season party
We seem to completely take over a town, and we did in Columbus. The restaurants, stores, hotels, pools, ice cream shops and even airports are full of volleyball families. It’s like a big end-of-year party wherever we go. I see girls I met at volleyball camps, tournaments, recruiting trips, etc., and it’s so fun to reconnect with old friends and meet new ones. Whether it’s celebrating a new college commitment (shout out to Grace!) or seeing a girl you spent hours on the sand court with two summers ago, it’s a great closure to the club season. It represents the lifelong friendships, which are such a big part of this experience for me.
So, it’s true that only one team goes home with a gold medal, yet most of us bring home something even more valuable. Every year, I come home with more than an overpriced T-shirt and bruises from unknown origins. Every year brings new experiences. There are tough losses, amazing wins, and with each point played, each kill, each error, we come home as a new person. Coaches always talk about how we have those “learning games.” I believe that every game is a learning game. We learn what it takes and if we have it or not.
Read the previous installment of Cosy's blog – on rookie sensation Kacey Nady – here.
He’s only 15, but T.J. DeFalco already is being hailed as a potential volleyball Olympian and drawing a comparison to one of the world’s greatest athletes.
And DeFalco, a home-schooled sophomore-to-be in Huntington Beach, Calif., recently got a chance to train with volleyball royalty -- Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh.
“It was really cool to see how Olympic athletes train,” DeFalco said. “I wasn’t in awe or nervous. I was just amazed I got the opportunity to practice with them.”
Tyler Hildebrand, a former U.S. national team setter who has worked with DeFalco the past two years, boldly puts his pupil and NBA superstar LeBron James in the same sentence.
“I saw LeBron play in high school,” Hildebrand said. “Obviously, LeBron is LeBron, and maybe it’s not as big a difference, but the way T.J. is so much better than other kids his age reminds me of (James).
“There’s no question that T.J. is the best volleyball player in the nation for his age group. I don’t think anyone would debate that.”
Hildebrand, the club director for The HBC -- which stands for Huntington Beach Club -- said DeFalco will have more opportunities indoors.
“I have seen him play indoors and on the beach, and he’s good at both,” Hildebrand said. “But the beach game is in a tough spot right now. The AVP Tour went bankrupt, and other than the top six to eight guys, the money on the beach is very limited.
“Indoors is different. First of all, you have to play indoors to compete in college because there is no (NCAA) sand volleyball for men. Secondly, the money is better overseas.”
At his size, DeFalco already has the physical requirements to play defense on the beach, but he may have to grow a bit more to be an elite hitter indoors.
Jon Aharoni, the coordinator of USA Beach Volleyball Development, said DeFalco is a natural on the sand.
“He’s got huge feet and hands -- he’s not done growing,” Aharoni said. “I’m a big fan of TJ’s. He’s coachable and has really improved in the past year. He’s not there yet, but he is good.
“He’s a kid I could very easily see representing the USA in beach volleyball someday.”
As for whether DeFalco continues to grow, there are mixed clues coming from his family. His father, Torey, is just 5-10. But Torey has a brother who is 6-11. His mother, Gina, is 5-8.
Torey, a marketing consultant, and Gina both remain active in leagues. Their seven children, who range in ages from 8 to 29, all have played volleyball, although none at T.J.’s level. All seven kids are or were home-schooled, and all seven have names starting with the letter “T.”
Torey, who said he has always been “a bit of a rebel,” decided along with his wife to home-school the kids because the job he had at the time forced the family to relocate often.
“Rather than subject them to the stresses of moving from school to school, we chose another option,” Torey said. “We also wanted to help them develop a love for learning.”
According to T.J. DeFalco, the flexible schedule of home-schooling has given him an edge in volleyball.
“I like all the time it gives me to be on the beach training,” he said. “The part I like least (about home-schooling) is the social aspect. I don’t get to hang out with friends as much as if I were at a school.”
Even so, DeFalco already has had an interesting life. He grew up in Missouri, where his family raised exotic animals.
“It was kind of like the movie ‘We Bought a Zoo,’ ” DeFalco said.
His older brother Tony was once kicked in the leg by an emu, a large bird that is a member of the ostrich family. The injury required 80 stitches, DeFalco said.
From Missouri, the family moved to San Diego, and in January, they relocated again, this time to Huntington Beach.
DeFalco is not sure if he will play high school volleyball. But with or without high school volleyball, the sport is ever present in DeFalco’s life. He trains nearly every day, whether it’s on the beach or indoors.
Jose Loiola, a former pro beach player in Brazil who now helps Aharoni coach the U.S. Under-19 program, raves about DeFalco.
“T.J. is very mature for his age,” Loiola said. “He is very athletic and explosive and shows great skills. There are some players who are good at one thing but not another, but T.J. has the whole package.”
I first saw Kacey Nady at Coast Volleyball tryouts last December. Since my high school team was still competing in CIF, I just came to watch. My eyes were immediately drawn to Kacey on the court. She looked about 6-foot-3 and absolutely dominated the net. Someone had tried to tip the ball over her huge block after being blocked by her several times in a row, and I remember her taking the ball and slamming it back over the net. Her athleticism was amazing and she jumped through the roof.
It was great to see a tall athlete so quick and light on her feet. The best part about watching Kacey was seeing what a great team player she was. She was positive and kept her teammates motivated, and her energy brought others up to her level.
Kacey has an amazing story. This is her first year playing competitive volleyball outside of school, and she moved out to San Diego to do it. Kacey, who plays for West Hills (Santee, Calif.), has sacrificed a lot to play the sport she loves, and you can tell that the volleyball court is where she belongs.
Meet Kacey Nady.
Cosy: What position do you play?
Kacey: Middle blocker for Coast 18-1 (Class of 2013)
Cosy: When did you start playing competitive volleyball? How long after you started playing did you get your first college offer?
Kacey: I played every year in high school, but it didn't become truly competitive until club began in December of 2011. On Dec. 6, University of North Carolina was the first to contact me and said they were very interested. So I guess a couple days after I began club.
Cosy: What came easiest and hardest for you?
Cosy: Who was the most influential person who believed in you and helped you get where you are?
Kacey: Definitely my mom because as soon as she knew I wanted to play club and follow my dream of playing college ball, she allowed me to move in a heartbeat. Many mothers would not do that for their child. Especially at the age of 16. We have a lot of trust in our relationship. She knew I could accomplish it if I set my mind to it, and I'm where I am now today because of her.
Cosy: Where did you live before moving to San Diego?
Kacey: I was born and raised in Yuma, Ariz.
Cosy: What were volleyball opportunities like in Yuma?
Kacey: Every high school had a volleyball team, but once the season was over for the high school, club was not offered in that town. So the opportunities to play were very slim.
Cosy: How did you choose San Diego?
Kacey:When I went to the U of A camp, coach David Rubio knew many people in San Diego, so there were many options. San Diego was the closest town that offered club, besides Phoenix. Also, I had a lot of family that lived in San Diego, including my grandparents, aunts and uncles. I moved up here and live with family friends.
Cosy: Is it hard to live on your own?
Kacey: Not seeing my mom every day is very difficult because she is the closest person to me in my life. She does come up to most of my tournaments, though. My entire life, I've been very independent, so living on my own wasn't too hard for me.
Cosy: What is your favorite thing about the game?
Kacey: I love that there is always room for improvement. We didn't start off the season too well, but with good coaching and the willingness to improve, we did. We practice so hard, then use all of our skill sets on the court that were learned in practice, and it is amazing to see the transformation.
Cosy: Where do you want to play for college? Already committed?
Kacey:My goal is anywhere in California that is Pac-12 -- Stanford, USC, UCLA or Cal. Right now, I'm staying in contact with the University of Oregon and I'm very interested in them, as well. But, no, I haven't committed quite yet.
Cosy: What advice do you have for those just starting the game?
Kacey: To anyone just beginning, I would say one of the most typical statements out there: "With dedication and perseverance, you can do anything you set your mind to." And especially, be patient! Whether it's with colleges or improving your game, things will come with time.
Read the previous installment of Cosy's blog – on rookie sensation Ashten Gooden-Smith – here.
In the 17U Open final of the AAU Junior Girls National Volleyball Championships, OVA defeated the Milwaukee Sting 17 Gold 2-0. Click here to watch a replay.
In the 16U Open final, the Fusion defeated the Milwaukee Sting 16 Gold 2-1. Click here to watch a replay.
More than 1,700 volleyball teams competed at the eight-day event.
On Tuesday, Shandong of China claimed the 18u open championship with a 2-1 win over Asics Munciana (click here to watch a replay), and Mizuno Northern Lights beat GVA 2-1 to claim the 15u open title (click here to watch a replay).
Earlier Tuesday, Shandong defeated the Nebraska Juniors 2-0 in a semifinal. Watch a replay of that match here.
Click here to watch the 17u final Wednesday at 5 p.m.
Click here to watch the 16u final Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.
It’s an unlikely place to find a volleyball star -- one that his club coach calls “the Spanish Karch Kiraly” -- but almost everything about Cesar Medina’s story is unusual.
Medina’s neighborhood of South Los Angeles is one of the roughest in the country.
To get to and from Jordan High School -- which sits between two housing projects -- Medina will typically walk through gang turf and witness drug use, illegal gambling and other crimes.
There’s little refuge inside Medina’s home, either. His parents have one room, and his three siblings share the other. Cesar sleeps on a mattress in the living room.
In the past, it was difficult for him to get to sleep before 3 a.m. because of all the noise and activity going on in his house, which explains why he had to repeat the ninth grade.
Medina rarely made it to class.
“It wasn’t like I was ditching,” said Medina, a 6-foot outside hitter with phenomenal leaping ability. “I’m a heavy sleeper, and I couldn’t get to school.”
Still, Medina is accountable for what transpired his first two years of high school, when he attended Fremont (Los Angeles), and he did much better in his junior and senior seasons at Jordan.
‘He’s an innocent’
But Ed DeGrasse, who has served as Medina’s club coach for the Pio Pico Middle School team the past couple of years, said the obstacles his player faces on a daily basis would have overwhelmed most people.
On weekends, DeGrasse drives 30 miles out of his way to pick up Medina for club matches. DeGrasse arrives at Medina’s home before the sun rises and bangs on the aluminum-foil-encased windows until someone comes to the door.
“It’s a sad situation,” DeGrasse said. “But as much as I may not like where Cesar lives, that’s his home. He probably wouldn’t be too upset if he lived his life there because that’s all he knows.”
Medina said he wants to go to a four-year college, but because he had a 1.0 GPA halfway through high school, he has no such offers. A junior college may be his best bet.
One reason Medina has gone under the radar for so long is that his high school didn’t allow him to play until he got his grades up, which finally happened in time for his junior season.
“It’s embarrassing, and I regret it,” Medina said. “School is not that hard. You just have to show up and do the work.
“Looking back on it, I could have done it and played all four years; it’s a lesson learned.”
A star is born
Once he became eligible -- he has a 3.0 GPA the past two years -- Medina was easily the most dominant force on his team, according to Jordan coach Manny Nunez.
“He’s very aggressive and competitive,” Nunez said. “He wants to mash the ball every time, and he hit quite a few facials [off of opponents].”
“DeGrasse said Medina is humble and polite -- except when he is on the court.
He'll rip your head off. The ball comes at you so fast, you can't see it coming. He hits with such violence.” -- PPMS coach Ed DeGrasse
“He’ll rip your head off,” DeGrasse said. “The ball comes at you so fast, you can’t see it coming. He hits with such violence.”
DeGrasse, who played Division I volleyball at Cal State Northridge and competed against men who went on to play in the Olympics, said Medina is the best talent he’s ever seen.
The comparison to Kiraly -- made by DeGrasse -- is attention-grabbing but seemingly unrealistic.
Kiraly is perhaps the biggest legend the sport of volleyball has ever produced, and Medina is an 18-year-old kid from the slums who learned the sport by playing against men on the dirt/cement courts at Roosevelt Park in South L.A.
Still, it’s interesting to note that there isn’t a single player on the U.S. men’s volleyball national team who looks or sounds like Medina, who is of Mexican descent.
Medina’s size is also different because there are few, if any, examples of a 6-foot outside hitter making it big in men’s volleyball.
For instance, UC Irvine, which won the national title this year in men’s volleyball, did it with outside hitters ranging from 6-2 to 6-8. And the U.S. national team uses players as tall as 6-10 at the position.
That, however, doesn’t deter DeGrasse from believing in Medina.
“He rarely gets blocked,” DeGrasse said. “He can go up in the air, look, survey the court and change his shot. He’s an exceptionally smart hitter.”
A record season
At Jordan this past season, Medina led his team in kills (489), kill-percentage (71.7), aces (95) and blocks (55). He was also second in digs (330).
With Medina leading the way, Jordan (38-6-1) set a school record for wins. The Bulldogs also went 22-1-1 down the stretch before losing 3-0 to Mira Costa (Manhattan Beach) in the Division 2 state semifinals.
Mira Costa, by the way, had six Division I players on its roster and finished No. 2 in the final POWERADE FAB 50 national rankings.
Medina was also the L.A. City Section Division 2 Player of the Year for two seasons in a row and leaves Jordan as the school’s career leader in kills.
“It feels good to make history,” Medina said. “It shows how hard our team worked. We had eight seniors, and it felt like every time we practiced, we had this chemistry.”
Medina is now attending summer school and is still trying to improve his grades. He has an offer to play volleyball and soccer -- some say he is just as gifted in that sport -- at Cerritos College, a two-year school in Norwalk, Calif.
“He’s done a lot for L.A. city volleyball,” DeGrasse said. “Ever since I saw him play at age 15, I’ve been infatuated with his game. He is a self-taught street player, but he’s phenomenal.
“People might say, ‘Wow, DeGrasse has given this kid so many chances.’ But I just can’t give up on his talent.”
WHEATON, Ill. -- The Wheaton Warrenville South boys’ volleyball team, which finished the season with a 42-0 record and the school’s seventh state championship, was honored on Friday as the POWERADE FAB 50 national champions.
Parents, coaches and fans were present at an assembly at the Wheaton Warrenville South gym. The team was led onto the court by a drum line, and principal Dave Claypool spoke to the group and introduced coach Bill Schreier and WWS alums Matt McCarthy (Ball State) and Doug Burchett (Illinois), who also won state championships.
“This has to be considered an incredible honor to cap an incredible season. We have had two previous teams go undefeated. The 2001 team with Sean Rooney went 38-0 and the 2004 team went 41-0 led by Matt McCarthy,” coach Bill Schreier said. “Every trek has its bumps and bruises along the way, and this was no different.
“I do know that I have never had a team as focused and committed as this team. This national championship is a culmination of all of the work that has been put in over the last two seasons. Memories last a lifetime, and this is something that will never be forgotten. To go 84-2 in sets throughout the season is a remarkable accomplishment and cap to a great senior group.”
Senior co-captain Thomas Jaeschke, a 6-foot-6 outside hitter and Loyola recruit, was selected Chicago Area Player of the Year. Senior co-captain Matt Callaway, a 6-8 middle hitter and Penn State recruit, also was a first-team All-Chicago Area honoree. Both were first-team AVCA All Americans.
Wheaton Warrenville South is the first boys’ volleyball team from Illinois to win the national championship.
Cosy Burnett is a junior outside and opposite hitter at La Costa Canyon (Carlsbad, Calif.) who also plays for Coast Volleyball Club in San Diego, Calif. Her high school team competed in the state finals for Division II last season and she has competed at nationals five times with her club teams. In the latest installment of her blog, she features a rookie sensation who is also managing diabetes.
I remember playing on the other side of the net of Ashten Gooden-Smith at the MLK Tournament in January. Her athleticism and power were astounding. It was fun and hard to play against her. She is a huge outside with a strong block, big hops and even bigger kills. I was surprised that I had never seen her before because she was such a boss. Lucky for my team, we have played Club West 17-1s multiple times during our season and they have always been fun, high-intensity matches.
During one tournament, my fearlessly friendly mother introduced herself to Ashten, then waved me over. I was shocked that she was only a sophomore at Los Osos (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.) and had been playing for just a year. Because of this incredible achievement, I just had to do a blog, but then while I was interviewing her, I found out something even more inspiring about Ashten. She has excelled and accomplished this feat while managing Type 1 diabetes.
Meet Ashten Gooden-Smith.
Cosy: What position do you play?
Ashten: I play outside hitter on Club West 17 National.
Cosy: When did you start playing competitive volleyball and how long after did you get your first college offer?
Ashten: This is my second year playing competitive volleyball. My first year, I played with a smaller team because I am a Type 1 diabetic, so it was more of a health sort of thing. I realized that I could handle diabetes at a higher level of play, and that’s how I ended up at Club West. I got my first college offer when I got to Club West at the beginning of this year thanks to coaches Aaron Flores, Eli Cuenca, Kurt Vlasich, and Morgan Coberly.
Ashten: I was first diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 7. My biggest challenge with diabetes would have to be managing my blood-sugar levels, especially during games. Usually before games my blood-sugars would be in normal range, but once I start playing my blood-sugar goes up because of adrenaline and a little nerves. Once my blood-sugar went up to the 400 range, which is really dangerous because my levels are supposed to stay between 70 and 150. Managing my blood-sugars is a real stress.
Cosy: Did you believe you could compete at a high level with diabetes and what do you do differently in managing it as an elite athlete?
Ashten: Yes I believed I could I could perform at a high level with diabetes. Even when I first was diagnosed, I still performed at a high level when it came to sports. Ultimately, I believe that playing at a high level is actually saving my life because it keeps my body strong and healthy at a young age. I need to be more careful in managing diabetes as a high-level athlete. In the morning I have to take a shot, which gives me my long-lasting insulin. Then before I eat breakfast, I prick my finger and check my blood-sugar and put my blood-sugar number and carbs I am consuming at the time into my insulin pump. Throughout the day I have to stay hydrated (especially game days) and check my blood-sugars during timeouts. I always have my insulin shot on the sidelines just in case my blood-sugar is too high. Yeah, it’s a lot of things I have to do; but whatever allows me to play and be healthy, I will do it.
Cosy: What would you tell other diabetics who want to compete at a high level?
Ashten: I would tell athletes with diabetes to never give up. And when you are having a hard time with diabetes, tell someone. Sometimes when I'm playing, I start to shake, which means my blood-sugar is dropping, and that feeling is the worst. I feel that sometimes I am letting my team down because of how my body is reacting to my blood-sugars, and that really makes me feel bad, and then I start debating if I should let someone know or not. But then I think, ‘Is this game really more important than my life?’ So I let someone know. I am not going to lie, diabetes and sports is the hardest thing to balance, but it’s definitely not impossible. Don't let diabetes be an excuse for not doing something you love.
Cosy: What came easiest and hardest for you when learning this game?
Ashten: Well, the jumping aspect of the game came easiest to me, if that makes sense. The hardest thing that I dealt with -- and still deal with -- is my arm swing. I just can’t quite get it yet, but once I get that down the whole game is going to change in my favor!
Cosy: Who is the most influential person who believed in you and helped you get where you are?
Ashten: There wasn’t just one main person who influenced me. My whole family influenced me to be where I am today. My mom, dad and brothers supported me from Day One. When I first started volleyball, I (stunk). My parents and my brother Anthony kept me mentally strong, while my brother Jordan (who plays basketball, by the way) taught me the basics of volleyball. Without them, I would be nowhere close to where I am right now.
Cosy: What is your favorite thing about the game?
Ashten: Winning and seeing the ball hit the ground on the opponent’s side! It’s so much fun getting kills from left to right.
Cosy: Where do you want to play for college? Already committed?
Ashten: I already committed to Cal Berkeley just a couple of weeks ago! Go Bears!
Read the previous installment of this series in Cosy's blog – on Breanna Barksdale – here.
Jud Buechler won three NBA titles as a member of the Chicago Bulls, but that’s not what makes him a great dad.
Buechler, 43, retired in 2002, and his main activity for the past decade has been raising his daughters, Reily, 16, and Brynn, 14, and coaching them in club volleyball.
“Whenever I have an issue with school or just regular life, he is super understanding,” Reily said. “He puts the problem into the perspective of his own life. He’ll say: ‘Look at me, I turned out OK, and I went through the same things.’ ”
Reily, a 6-1½ outside hitter, will start her junior year at Torrey Pines (San Diego, Calif.) this fall. She is a highly recruited star with offers from Stanford, UCLA and Southern Cal.
She said she wants to stay on the West Coast for college but hasn’t decided where. She can certainly turn to her dad for recruiting advice because Buechler was a standout athlete in high school who went on to play for Arizona.
From there, he was a second-round pick of the Seattle SuperSonics (1990) and went on to play for seven NBA teams. He only averaged 3.3 points in his career, but the 6-6 guard/forward stuck for 12 years in the NBA.
Soon after retirement, Buechler started coaching Reily with the Waves club team. She was 9 at the time, and as she has moved up in the age categories, Buechler has served as an assistant coach with each of those Waves teams.
Blazing her own trail
Brynn, a 5-7½ setter who will be a freshman at Torrey Pines this fall, has not worked with her dad nearly as much as Reily.
“My dad is the best dad ever,” Brynn said. “I love him so much. I would never ask for another dad. He handles everything perfectly.”
One of the things he “handled” was when Brynn told him recently that she would rather someone else serve as her coach on the Waves.
“He has been coaching Reily a long time and taken her a long way,” Brynn said. “She’s really good.
“He’s been coaching me for three years, but I’m my own person. I told him that I want to play like I want to play. My sister can take direction and do it exactly like he wants. For me, it takes a little longer.”
Brynn acknowledged that she feels pressure to be as good as her sister. But, Brynn said, that just makes her want to push herself harder to “get respect.”
The family adjusts
Things at home haven’t always gone perfectly, either. Buechler’s marriage to the girls’ mother, Lindsey, broke up about six months ago, and they now share custody.
“He has handled the divorce thing really well with us three as a family,” Brynn said. “He understands how we feel. We can communicate with each other really well.”
Reily said that a positive that emerged from the situation was that she bonded more with her mother when she spent time at her house. And Brynn bonded more with her dad when she spent a couple of weeks living with him. Previously, the stronger connections were Reily with her dad and Brynn with her mother.
“It was good for us,” Reily said. “Our lives changed so much. Everything that I saw as true and real has changed. It was a good eye-opener.
“But we are still doing well in school, and we all get to see each other a lot.”
United by sports
Buechler and his daughters enjoy surfing and watching NBA games on television together.
And, of course, there’s always volleyball. At club practices, Buechler, who was a high school volleyball star himself, will often get in there and show his skills.
In the car rides home, volleyball is usually a main topic.
In May, Reily returned from taking eight months off to rest her shoulder.
“When Reily was a freshman and made varsity, she took a lot of swings for a 14-year-old,” Buechler said. “She had soreness in her shoulder, and we rested her. But the time off was good.”
Reily will compete in the Girls’ Junior National Championships, also known as the Junior Olympics, set for June 28-July 7 in Columbus, Ohio.
Reily’s club teams twice earned bronze medals at the event but have yet to win a national title.
This year’s team, 17Jeanne, named after head coach Jeanne Reeves, is stocked with Division I recruits.
Buechler calls Maddy Kerr (Cal recruit), Ryann Chandler (Pepperdine) and Reily “the three original gangsters” because they have played together for the past seven years. Maddy is the daughter of ex-NBA player Steve Kerr, and Ryann’s father, Chris Chandler, was an NFL quarterback.
“I look at all these girls like my daughters,” Buechler said. “It’s been incredible to see them grow from little girls to young women.”
Cosy Burnett is a junior outside and opposite hitter at La Costa Canyon (Carlsbad, Calif.) who also plays for Coast Volleyball Club in San Diego, Calif. Her high school team competed in the state finals for Division II last season and she has competed at nationals five times with her club teams. In the latest installment of her blog, she salutes all those special volleyball dads -- especially her own.
When I was 8, he was the one who brought me out to the backyard and onto the sports court and made my arms bright red from so many volleyball “bumps.” I remember going back into the house with the veins in my arms popping out thinking “volleyball really hurts.”
He was the one who got me volleyball private lessons at age 11, which helped me barely make the lowest volleyball team for my age group at the best club. He believed in me.
Every September, my dad sits down with me and he helps me make reachable goals for the school year. He helps me have confidence.
When I was 12, he bought me a big blue board and told me to write down goals, and make myself a “vision board.” It changed my life. My dad explained that I should make a collage of pictures to illustrate what I want in life. Then every morning when I wake up and see those images, they will become cemented in my mind. I covered that blue board with my dreams: a baby blue convertible Bentley, an Abercrombie & Fitch model (as my future man), exotic places, my dream home, pictures of Jesus (to keep my faith) and photos of BYU volleyball. I had that vision board on my wall facing my bed, so every morning I woke up to my dreams.
Whether it’s how to get a full ride to my dream school, pump me up, calm me down, or be there for me when I simply need someone to talk to, my dad is there.
It’s time to honor our volleyball dads. They cheer for us, they embarrass us, they believe in us, they fight for us and they sacrifice for us.
Here’s what some volleyball players in the SoCal Region have to say to their dads:
“To Brian, You are one of the most incredible people I have ever met. Thank you, Pops, for being at every 7 a.m. tournament and for teaching me what it means to be a genuinely good person. You've set a great example, and I only hope that one day I can turn out to be half the person you are. I love you and will miss you so much next year!” – Yale-bound Karlee Fuller, Wave 18-1, La Costa Canyon (Carlsbad, Calif.)
“To Ken, Happy Father’s Day! Thanks for always coming to my matches and cheering for me.” -- Sarah Kramer, T-Street 17-Troy, Rosary (Fullerton, Calif.)
“To Jim, Thanks, Dad, for always cheering me on! I love you!” -- Courtney Crosby, T-Street 17-Troy, Los Alamitos (Calif.)
“To Kenny, Thanks for all the support you always give me. I love you!” -- Kalysta White, T-Street 17-Troy, Laguna Beach (Calif.)
“To Jimmy, Thank you for all the support and always cheering me on. I can always hear, “Dominate the net, Brookie!’” -- Brooke Legaux, T-Street 17-Troy, Tesoro (Las Flores, Calif.)
“To Dave, Happy Father’s Day and thanks for everything you do for me! Love, Ash” --Ashley Swatek, Club West 18-Nat, Ayala (Chino Hills, Calif.)
“To Oscar, I love you so much, Daddy!” -- Taylor Scott, Club West 18-Nat, Claremont (Calif.)
“To Ron, Happy Father’s Day! Thank you for all the support you give me. Because of you, I am able to play the game I love!” -- Lauren Miller, Coast 17-1, Cathedral Catholic (San Diego, Calif.)
“To Jeff, Happy Father’s Day and thanks for all the support you give me. I love you!” --Krissy Witous, Coast 17-1s, Cathedral Catholic (San Diego, Calif.)
“To Mike, Happy Father’s Day, Dad! I love you so much and thanks for everything! You are really an amazing Dad!” -- Sydney Francis, Coast 17-1s, La Costa Canyon (Carlsbad, Calif.)
“To Derek, Thank you for all your support! I love you and hope you have a great Father’s Day. You’re the best!” -- Breanna Barksdale, Coast 17-1, Eastlake (Chula Vista, Calif.)
“Happy Father’s Day, Charlie! I love you!” -- Christian Jones, T-Street 17-Troy, Los Alamitos (Calif.)
“To David, Thank you so much for supporting me at every game. It means so much! Happy Father’s Day! I love you!” -- Kelly Boutelle, Coast 17-1, Bishop’s (La Jolla, Calif.)
“To Chris, Happy Father’s Day, Papa! I love you!” -- Caterina Rosander, Coast 17-1, Canyon Crest Academy (San Diego, Calif.)
“To Mark, Thank you for supporting me in every sport I do! You’re the best and I love you! Happy Father’s Day!” -- Lexi Reddick, Coast 17-1, Del Norte (San Diego, Calif.)
“To Michael, Thank you so much for always supporting me in volleyball and riding! Happy Father’s Day! I love you!” -- Claire Manhard, Coast 17-1, Bishops (La Jolla, Calif.)
“To Bill, Thanks so much for being a great dad! You have always been so supportive to me! Happy Father’s Day! I love you!” -- Marin Longfellow, Coast 17-1, Santa Fe Christian (Solana Beach, Calif.)
"To Dennis, I love you Dad! Thanks for sitting through the long tournaments and helping me with my volleyball recruiting video. You are so supportive, loving and always know how to make me laugh. Thank you for setting an excellent example for me by working so hard at everything you do.” -- Alex Visser, EPIC 18-1, La Costa Canyon (Carlsbad, Calif.)
Happy Father’s Day to our great dads! We couldn’t do it without you!
Read the previous installment of Cosy's blog – on rookie sensation Breanna Barksdale – here.
Every year on Father’s Day, McKenzie Kessel and her brother Cody paint their dad’s car.
“We’ll write: ‘No. 1 Dad’ or ‘Best Dad in the World’ with an arrow pointing to the driver’s seat,” McKenzie said. “Or we’ll say: ‘Honk if you love your Dad.’
“It still makes my dad light up. He leaves it on his car until almost the next Father’s Day.”
McKenzie, a 5-foot-9 libero, won back-to-back state titles the past two years at Cheyenne Mountain (Colorado Springs, Colo.). She finished her senior year last month and is preparing to play Division III volleyball at Bowdoin College (Brunswick, Maine) this fall.
Cody, 20, is a 6-6 outside hitter at Princeton University. As a freshman this past season, he used his 39-inch vertical leap to lead the Tigers in kills and points.
“People see that we play volleyball and say, ‘Oh, of course, Kessel family,’ ” said McKenzie, 18. “But he never pushed us to play. I quit club volleyball two years ago because I wanted to play high school lacrosse, and he was totally supportive.”
McKenzie was 3 years old when her parents split up. Since then, she, Cody and John have called themselves the “Kessel-ateers”.
Cody said his bond with his sister has only strengthened in recent years.
“We’re best friends, through and through,” Cody said. “Maybe the divorce contributed to (our closeness), but I don’t think it will ever change in my entire life.”
It’s a matter of trust
Both siblings credit their father for providing a loving and stable home.
McKenzie said her father is the most patient and trusting person she’s ever met. For example, he let his kids decide on their own rules and curfews, which were more flexible than that of their friends.
“He is very respectful of our thoughts and, because of that, we never want to disappoint him,” McKenzie said. “Luckily, we’ve never gotten into trouble.”
“John has taken his kids to Fiji, Egypt and Canada, and they plan to go to Germany this summer. When he is invited to teach at a volleyball clinic, the deal that he typically makes is that he will do it for free as long as they pay for his kids’ flights.
He is very respectful of our thoughts and, because of that, we never want to disappoint him. Luckily, we've never gotten into trouble.” --McKenzie Kessel on her dad, John Kessel
An example of the family’s love for travel and adventure came in February of 2002, when the three were watching the Salt Lake City Olympics on television. Cody, then 10, remarked about “how cool” it would be to attend since it was fairly close.
The next day -- without anything having been planned -- the Kessels drove to Salt Lake City, stayed with friends and bought tickets to hockey and cross-country skiing from scalpers.
For John, each trip is an opportunity to share with his kids whatever information comes to mind, from volleyball strategy to the formation of clouds.
John’s mother was a first-grade teacher, and that is the way he parents and coaches. He rewards effort over outcome.
“If a child misspells a word, you don’t ask him to drop and give you 20 (push-ups),” John said. “You teach him how to spell the word correctly.
“John Wooden once said that if you want to learn how to coach, learn how to teach.”
John is not always in teacher mode, though. Sometimes being a parent means comforting a child. And when McKenzie texts her dad that she is having a bad day, he makes sure to bring home her favorite ice cream: Ben & Jerry’s Coffee HEATH Bar Crunch.
King of the mountain
But while the Kessels have bonded over everything from traveling to dessert, this is still a volleyball family at its core. And another Father’s Day tradition -- beyond the car paint -- is the King of the Mountain outdoor volleyball doubles tournament, held each year in Vail, Colo.
This is the 40th annual tournament, and John, 59, has been playing since the beginning.
Last year, more than 500 teams competed in all divisions, including open, seniors, co-ed and masters.
The tournament runs Friday through Sunday and features a free junior’s clinic.
John and Cody have won the Father/Son division three times, and John and McKenzie have finished as high as third in the Father/Daughter competition.
“It’s cool because it is a tournament my dad has done since he had long hair and thick glasses,” McKenzie said of her father, who is 6-3 and played club volleyball at Colorado College. “He is getting older, for sure, but he has so much court savvy that he can make a winning shot without jumping.”
McKenzie said the tournament is one of the highlights of her summer. And even though this is the first year Cody will be unable to attend -- he will be playing in an international competition in Japan -- it still figures to be a special weekend.
“My friends come up and play doubles, my dad does clinics -- every day there’s something,” McKenzie said. “It’s magical. Whenever we talk about Vail, everyone lights up.”
The New Jersey Tournament of Champions concluded on Thursday night, and all 50 positions in the final POWERADE FAB 50 for the 2012 boys' volleyball season have been locked up.
With the final rankings also comes the official announcement that the mythical national champion is Wheaton Warrenville South (Wheaton, Ill.).
It was considered seriously to move up No. 2 Mira Costa (Manhattan Beach, Calif.) due to an advantage in strength of schedule, but it wasn't so much of an advantage that a team should be dropped after already sitting in the No. 1 position.
Wheaton Warrenville South becomes the first Illinois team to end the season No. 1 in the nation in boys' volleyball, and it could be the best team in state history. The Tigers completed their perfect run with a 25-21, 25-13 triumph over Glenbrook North (Northbrook, Ill.) in last Saturday's state championship.
While coach Bill Schreier's squad has never finished 42-0 before, the school has had two previous unbeaten state champions, and on Saturday won its seventh state crown overall.
In the New Jersey final, Fair Lawn defeated previous FAB 50 No. 33 Southern Regional (Manahawkin, N.J.) and moves into the final rankings. Southern Regional stays, too, due to having two previous wins over Fair Lawn.
Click here for the final rankings of the 2012 season.