High-SchoolVolleyball: Must See

Beach volleyball
Courtesy of Ciena LennonSusannah Muno goes for the kill at the AAU Beach Volleyball National Championships in Hermosa Beach last month.
In just four weeks, Susannah Muno collected three trophies and made history on the beach.

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.
By Walter Villa

T.J. DeFalcoCourtesy of Paul DeVries"There's no question that T.J. is the best volleyball player in the nation for his age group," says Tyler Hildebrand, a former U.S. national team setter. "I don't think anyone would debate that."

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.”

Boys' Volleyball
Courtesy of the DeFalco familyT.J. DeFalco
What is up for debate is whether DeFalco, who is a 6-foot-3 left-side hitter, will ultimately pursue beach volleyball or the indoor game.

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.”

OVA Asics, Chicago Fusion claim crowns

June, 28, 2012
OVA 17 Asics of Orlando, Fla., and Fusion 16 Black of Chicago won the final two championships at the 2012 ESPNHS Girls Showcase at ESPN Wide World of Sports in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

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.
The ESPNHS Girls Showcase at ESPN Wide World of Sports concludes Wednesday night with champions being crowned on the volleyball courts.

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.
By Walter Villa

Cesar MedinaCourtesy of Richard EdsonAs a senior, Cesar Medina led Jordan (Los Angeles) in aces, kills, kill-percentage and blocks.

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.

Jordan volleyball
Courtesy of Jordan VillaCesar Medina says he's learned his lesson after poor grades forced him to miss the first two years of high school volleyball.
“He’s an innocent and very naive,” DeGrasse said. “If I could adopt him and take him out of there, I would.”

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].”

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
DeGrasse said Medina is humble and polite -- except when he is on the court.

“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.”
By Walter Villa

John KesselCourtesy of Eric HodgsonMcKenzie Kessel has been all over the world with her dad, but there's something special about their Father's Day tradition. "It's magical," she says. "Whenever we talk about Vail, everyone lights up."

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.”

John Kessel
Courtesy of John Kessel"He leaves it on his car until almost the next Father's Day," McKenzie Kessel says of her dad's decorated car.
McKenzie and Cody’s dad is John Kessel, the director of sport development for USA Volleyball who is a divorcee and their primary caretaker.

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.”

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
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.

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.

McKenzie Kessel
Courtesy of Tammy KingJohn and McKenzie Kessel have finished as high as third at the King of the Mountain.
But in 2001, he convinced organizers to add Father/Son and Father/Daughter divisions, from 18-under to 12-under.

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.”
FAB 50Courtesy of Wheaton Warrenville SouthWheaton Warrenville South capped its undefeated season with a state championship.
Mark Tennis and Kirstin Olsen

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.
By Cosy Burnett

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 on her club team.

La Costa Canyon volleyball
Cosy Burnett
Recently I’ve been amazed at the caliber of “rookie” athletes we have in the volleyball world. Most of us have had long years of playing both school and club to achieve our skills, but there are some athletes who have just started playing this game and have already gotten college offers in as little as a year! I’ve had the opportunity of having one of these girls on my team, competing against others, and seeing more excel on different teams. For the next three weeks, I want to highlight a rookie player who turned into an elite volleyball athlete in just one short year.

Bre Barksdale, a junior at Eastlake (Chula Vista, Calif.), plays with me on my club team, Coast Volleyball Club 17-1, in San Diego. She’s a middle blocker. This has been my first year playing with Bre, and ever since tryouts I’ve been impressed with her athleticism. Not only does she jump through the roof, but she also has a huge hang time. Off the court, she is quiet and polite. On the court, she turns into a dominating beast. Her calm demeanor always helps me collect myself after a tough play. I can always count on her saying, “Don’t worry, Cosy, you got it.” I have seen her improve hugely throughout this year as she has turned into a clutch player.

Meet Breanna Barksdale.

Bre Barksdale
Courtesy of Derek BarksdaleBreanna Barksdale is a junior middle blocker at Eastlake (Chula Vista, Calif.) and plans to play at Cincinnati.
Cosy: When did you start playing competitive volleyball and how long after you started playing did you get your first college offer?
Bre: I started volleyball my sophomore year after my high school coach Erwin Macalaguim urged me to play. Within my first year, I started receiving interest from college coaches, and just after my first year playing I had received my first college offer!

Cosy: What came easiest and hardest for you?
Bre: Nothing came easy for me, but my athleticism helped me with my shortfalls. The hardest skill I still have some trouble with is blocking.

Cosy: Who was the most influential person who believed in you and helped you get where you are? What did they do?
Bre: Many people have helped me get to where I am today, including all of my coaches, teammates and, of course, my family. Especially my brother, D'Angelo Barksdale. He always encourages me to do my best and picks me up when I'm down. He reminds me to stay focused on the game but have fun as well. Watching him play for the University of San Diego football team inspired me to take volleyball to the next level.

Cosy: What is your favorite thing about the game?
Bre: Competitiveness! Playing teams of high caliber brings out the best of my abilities.

Cosy: Where do you want to play for college? Already committed?
Bre: I am currently committed to the University of Cincinnati. Go Bearcats!

Cosy: What advice do you have for those just starting the game?
Bre: Some advice I would give to those just starting the game is ask your coach what skills you should concentrate on. Work hard and openly accept constructive criticism. Volleyball is a team sport, so be a team player. Strengthen your legs, core and endurance to become quicker and stronger. And, learn from the players who play the best at your position And, to help along the way, live by my family motto: “Give everything your best effort and believe in yourself.”

Read the previous installment of Cosy's blog – on playing when you're under the weather – here.
Audriana Fitzmorris wanted to jump up and celebrate, but, out of respect for her friends, she showed no emotion.

Fitzmorris is one of 24 volleyball stars from around the country who spent last week in Colorado Springs, Colo., competing for 12 roster spots on the U.S. Girls’ Youth National Team.

After the decisions had been made, the coaches brought the girls into a room.

“They gave a speech and then they flipped over a whiteboard that had the names and numbers of the girls who made the team,” Fitzmorris said. “I scanned it very quickly and saw my name. I just stared at it for a long time. I was completely overjoyed and pleasantly surprised. I’m really happy because it’s such an honor to represent my country.

“But I also felt really awful for the girls who didn’t make it.”

Fitzmorris, a 6-foot-4 middle blocker, said there were a few girls who cried -- and that includes tears of joy from the ones that made the cut.

Fitzmorris, 14, is the youngest girl on the team. She recently graduated from the eighth grade at Prairie Star Middle School (Leawood, Kansas).

She said she was excited to play for Team USA at the NORCECA Girls’ Youth Continental 18U Championship at Hato Major, Dominican Republic from June 24 to July 2.

However, the tournament, which serves as a qualifier for the 2013 FIVB Girls’ Youth World Championships, has been indefinitely suspended due to problems faced by the Dominican Republic in hosting several major events within a short timeframe.

The postponement may work out well for Fitzmorris and her teammates who otherwise would have missed playing the Junior National Championships (also known as the Junior Olympics) with their club teammates June 28 to July 7 in Columbus, Ohio.

“It’s disappointing (about the postponement) because I wanted to play immediately,” Fitzmorris said. “But I also wanted to play the Junior Olympics with my club team. Hopefully, now I can do both.”
By Mark Tennis and Kirstin Olsen

Mira Costa Boys VolleyballKirstin OlsenMira Costa survived an epic five-set match against Oak Park and remains No. 2 in the POWERADE FAB 50 national rankings.

The CIF Southern California regional championships are in the books from last weekend, and two teams clinched at least No. 2 and No. 3 final rankings in this year's FAB 50.

No. 2 Mira Costa (Manhattan Beach, Calif.) was looking for a rematch after going 1-1 with previous No. 3 Westview (San Diego, Calif.). The Mustangs didn't get an opportunity for that because the Wolverines were upset by late-season powerhouse Oak Park (Agoura Hills, Calif.). But Mira Costa certainly was tested in Saturday's Division II final.

Oak Park and Mira Costa, in fact, traded seven match points in a marathon five-set contest. The Mustangs were down in the fifth set 14-12 but, after fighting off four match points, prevailed 24-26, 25-16, 25-19, 24-26, 20-18.

A valiant effort from Oak Park senior outside hitters Justin Parks (23 kills) and Bradley Sakaida (16 kills) was matched by Costa senior outside hitter Chris Orenic (33 kills). Scott Stephanoff (12 kills) also stepped up his game late in the match.

No. 3 Loyola, meanwhile, wanted to turn around a loss to No. 4 Otay Ranch (Chula Vista, Calif.) from last month's Redondo Power Classic in the Division I SoCal final. The Cubs did just that with a 25-20, 25-19, 25-14 win. They were without senior outside hitter Nick Porterfield with a sprained ankle, but senior outside hitter Alex Slaught came up big with 17 kills.

Click here for the complete Week 11 rankings.
By Walter Villa

Audriana FitzmorrisCourtesy of Brent Lilley"I sometimes go over there and make sure they are OK," Audriana Fitzmorris says of her opponents. "I apologize and let them know that I wasn't aiming for them."

Audriana Fitzmorris, a 6-foot-4 middle blocker, is a straight-A student and a part of the USA Volleyball pipeline. Her coaches describe her as a “once in a lifetime” player and rave about her unselfishness and maturity.

And, oh yes, she’s only 14.

Fitzmorris, who last week graduated from eighth grade at Prairie Star Middle School (Leawood, Kan.), has an exciting summer lined up.

She is the youngest of 24 athletes invited to participate in the U.S. Volleyball Girls’ Youth National Team tryout, which starts Thursday and runs through June 3 in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Fitzmorris is set to graduate high school in 2016. Every other girl on the training team is in the class of 2014 or 2015.

“I’m a little surprised (to be invited) because I knew a lot of older girls were going to be there,” Fitzmorris said. “But I am overjoyed and excited.”

Of the 24 girls invited to Colorado, USA Volleyball will select 12 to take to the Dominican Republic on June 24 for the NORCECA Girls’ Youth Continental Championships.

The U.S. will use the tournament to try to qualify for the 2013 FIVB Girls’ Youth World Championship.

Fitzmorris, who also plays basketball when time permits, comes from a tall and athletic family. Her mother, Maria Luisa, is 6-1. A native of Lima, Peru, she played volleyball and basketball for her national team and competed in Brazil’s pro basketball league.

Fitzmorris’ father, Michael, is 6-7. He played college basketball at UC Irvine and professionally in Sweden.

Of the couple’s four children, the second oldest, Alex, 20, is the only Division I athlete to date. The 6-4 middle blocker played her freshman season at Arkansas and her sophomore season at Boston College, where she was third on the team in blocks last year.

Fitzmorris also has two brothers: 6-7 Michael, 21, who attends Alabama and is an avid rower; and Keenan, a 6-1 basketball player who just finished sixth grade.

"You expect her to be the best hitter, but she's also the best passer and everything else. I've coached for 30 years, and she is the most elite athlete I've ever worked with, boy or girl."

-- Prairie Star coach Bob Dickerson
Fitzmorris, though, appears to be the best athlete in the family. In fact, she’d be the best athlete in most families.

“What is most unusual about Audriana is that for someone her height, she is extremely coordinated and agile,” said Bob Dickerson, who coached her at Prairie Star last season.

“I’ve never seen someone that tall have that kind of body control. She is a good jumper with an active arm. Her height gives her angles, and she’s a smart kid.

“You expect her to be the best hitter, but she’s also the best passer and everything else. I’ve coached for 30 years, and she is the most elite athlete I’ve ever worked with, boy or girl.”

Dickerson said watching Fitzmorris play against kids her age is like watching a woman against children.

“A couple of times, she hit the ball so hard that it (struck an opposing player) in the face,” Dickerson said. “The girl started bawling. I told Audriana, ‘She’ll be OK. Just keep swinging.’ ”

Fitzmorris said she feels bad for her opponents under those circumstances.

“I sometimes go over there and make sure they are OK,” she said. “I apologize and let them know that I wasn’t aiming for them.

“I know I have to be aggressive, but I don’t want to be mean. I don’t want to be over-aggressive.”

Those sentiments don’t surprise Michelle Abshire, who was Fitzmorris’ first coach at the Kansas City-based club Mid-America Volleyball, known as MAVS for short.

With Fitzmorris anchoring the team, the MAVS finished fifth in the nation at the 2010 Junior Olympics (12-under). Last year, the MAVS came in second (13-under).

“She was a huge part of our teams -- she did it all for us,” Abshire said. “A lot of teams take their big middles out and replace them with a libero when they get to the back row. But Audriana played all the way around.

“She has a great jump serve and plays terrific defense. She’s such a talented athlete and works so hard -- she deserves to stay in and play all the positions.”

Talent aside, Abshire said it’s Fitzmorris’ personality that makes her a true winner.

Fitzmorris is quiet, her coach said, but not shy or timid. She is not afraid to call for the ball and is a team captain and leader.

“She is one of the most humble players I’ve ever met,” Abshire said. “Most players who have the number of kills that she has would want to showboat. But that’s just not Audriana.

“There really isn’t a selfish bone in her body. She wants her teammates to succeed, which is why she is so well-liked.”

Some of the people who like her most are college recruiters. You can bet she is on their radar already, and the amazing part is that doctors recently told Fitzmorris she’s not yet done growing.

But before she picks a college, Fitzmorris and her family still have to figure out what high school she will attend.

Perhaps the family can use the high school choice as a practice run for what is sure to be difficult college decision in a couple years.

Fitzmorris, whose favorite subject is math, is interested in studying medicine and said she knows what she seeks in a college.

“I want it to be diverse,” said Fitzmorris, who understands Spanish but would like to improve her ability to speak her second language. “I also want a college that has a good balance between academics and athletics.

“I like being a student-athlete. I’m a hard worker, and when I put my mind to something, I’m really focused.”
By Cosy Burnett

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 explains how to manage crazy volleyball parents.

La Costa Canyon volleyball
Cosy Burnett
“The score is wrong!”

All it takes is one parent to yell out that simple phrase and an avalanche of shouts, whistles, yells and arms frantically waving at the scorekeeper begins. And once it starts, they won’t give up until the score is checked and re-checked. The scorekeeper has 3.2 seconds to flip the plastic number before “Score!” is yelled. If she flips too fast and they don’t see it, that’s also a problem. And if she accidentally flips the wrong side, parents work themselves into a rabid frenzy.

We’ve all seen it; we’ve all experienced it -- the crazy volleyball parent.

Now, I consider myself lucky because my parents have to share their attention with my four other siblings, which has kept them in a certain state of sanity. Most of the time.

Usually parent “over-involvement” is humorous and harmless, but it can also cause problems with team chemistry and individual performance. Sports can bring out your best and worst. The same goes for parents. This week I thought I would write a blog on how to manage the crazy volleyball parent.

Stop negative cheering
The game from the parent’s perspective is always interesting.
-- Parent of the defensive player: “Why can’t we get a block? Girls, close the gap!”
-- Parent of the setter: “Come on, pass the ball. Let’s get a pass this time!”
-- Parent of the hitter: “Higher sets! Push it up!” Or my favorite, “SET! THE! MIDDLE!”
Guess what? We hear it, and it’s not helpful. We all need each other to make a play and we need support, not blame.

Make a contract
I was once on a club team that had some overzealous parents. During our team bonding night, we decided to make our parents sign a contract. We wanted to start things off right, so we came up with a list of rules. At the parent meeting, we had them agree to the following:
-- No talking to coaches about playing time -- that’s our job.
-- No coaching from the sidelines.
-- No trashing on teammates or coaches.
-- Only positive cheering allowed.
-- No yelling at the referees or line judges when they make a tough call.
-- No lectures in the car ride home on how we can improve.
The parents laughed, but we made our point and the stage was set for the season.

Let your parents know how you feel. It’s great that they’re passionate and involved, but you don’t want volleyball to be the core of your relationship. I always enjoyed a close relationship with my mom, but sometimes I just didn’t want to talk volleyball. She was so excited to talk about everything (the recruiting, the games, the plays), but once I let her know how I felt, she gave me my space. I need to “process” after a long tournament, and the only thing I want to discuss on the way home is which In-N-Out Burger we should stop at. I like to have “volleyball free” dinners at home and focus on other topics with my parents. It helps keep a well-balanced relationship, which I value.

Parents want us to be successful and reach our goals. They mean well; they love us. But sometimes we just have to lay down the law.

Read the previous installment of Cosy's blog – how to prepare for nationals – here.
Wheaton Warrenville SouthConrad CasteloWith a perfect record and a strong showing by other Illinois teams, Wheaton Warrenville South (Wheaton, Ill.) takes over the top spot in the FAB 50 rankings.

Although Mira Costa (Manhattan Beach, Calif.), the CIF Southern Section Division I champion, has a strong argument to be the new No. 1 team in the POWERADE FAB 50, the choice this week instead has gone to unbeaten Wheaton Warrenville South (Wheaton, Ill.).

Coach Bill Schreier's team improved to 36-0 on Tuesday night with an easy win over St. Francis (Wheaton, Ill.) in the regional round of the state playoffs. The Tigers have been No. 1 in Illinois since the start of the season and have not slipped in a single match.

Also helping Wheaton Warrenville South in the rankings is the performance of teams from Illinois in general against other top teams from other states, including a win by No. 11 Lincoln-Way East (Frankfort, Ill.) over No. 14 Buchanan (Clovis, Calif.).

If Mira Costa only had two losses on the season instead of four, or if the Mustangs had been completely healthy all season, then they'd probably not have dropped behind the Tigers earlier.

One of the reasons Mira Costa was seriously considered to jump past Wheaton Warrenville South is that the Mustangs beat previous No. 1 Loyola (Los Angeles) 25-19, 25-22, 25-27, 21-25, 15-12 in last Saturday's CIF Southern Section Division I finals.

It was Mira Costa's first CIFSS title since 2008. Setter Jackson Carr had 58 assists and 10 blocks while outside hitter Chris Orenic had 24 kills and 10 digs.

Click here for the complete Week 10 rankings.
Loyola VolleyballVbshots.comLoyola (Los Angeles) has a few more hurdles to clear if it wants to claim the mythical national title.

California's sectional playoffs are just about wrapped up, which means it could be one giant hurdle cleared by No. 1 Loyola (Los Angeles, Calif.) in its quest to be the mythical national champion.

The Cubs got past No. 6 Servite (Anaheim, Calif.) in Tuesday's semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs with a three-set sweep and will meet No. 3 Mira Costa (Manhattan Beach, Calif.) in Saturday's championship.

To hold off unbeaten Wheaton Warrenville South (Wheaton, Ill.), Loyola needs to win that title and then follow it up with a title in the CIF Southern California regional championships.

State championships in Florida and Arizona are now complete with Missouri on track to complete its championships this weekend.

Click here for the complete Week 9 rankings.
By Cosy Burnett

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, her fellow players wish their moms a Happy Mother's Day.

La Costa Canyon volleyball
Cosy Burnett
Volleyball moms are the best. They are special women who sacrifice so much. They are working moms who use their precious vacation days to go to tournaments. They are stay-at-home moms with multiple kids balancing it all. They are single moms. They are all supermoms.

Last year during AP testing, finals and preparing for nationals, prom decided to come along. I had a date, but no dress, and was in a state of serious panic to find one. I did not have a single hour to search for that perfect dress. So I did what any girl would do -- I put my head down and cried, thinking, “I guess I could just wear jeans.”

The next day I stumbled into my room at 8 p.m., exhausted and spent. I flipped on my light and was shocked. I looked around my room and jumped up and down. Hanging on anything that would hold a hanger were over a dozen beautiful dresses! Each one was different and had a pair of shoes to go with it. My mom had brought the store to me when I couldn't go myself. Needless to say, I found the perfect dress and didn't have to wear jeans. It wouldn't have happened without my amazing mom.

At a SoCal tournament over the weekend, I asked my teammates and some other volleyball girls to share their thoughts on their volleyball moms. This is what I got:

“My mom cheers for me, makes sure I’m well rested, and I know she loves me when she wakes up before 5 a.m. to go to my tournaments -- so lucky to call her mom.” -- Krissy Witous, Coast 17-1

“As a little girl whenever someone asked me who my role model was, it was never a famous baseball player or scientist, it was always my mom. There is no one in the world I could give more credit to as a caretaker, a role model and my best friend. I love you, Mom.” -- Caterina Rosander, Coast 17-1

“My mom is my best friend. I love her with all my heart. She is always there for me through thick and thin and has always been my No. 1 advocate when it comes to volleyball and life. I don't know what I would do without her. She's the first person I go to when I'm sad and she is my favorite person in the world. I love you, Mom!” -- Sydney Francis, Coast 17-1

“My mom is always there for me no matter what. She cheers for me and makes sure I’m wide awake before I play. She’s my biggest supporter.” -- Marin Longfellow, Coast 17-1

“Having a mom like mine means the world. She is always there when I need her. Waking up early for tournaments isn’t easy, but she is always ready to go. We have a good time together and she picks me up when I’m down. I love her so much." -- Victoria Dennis, Club West 18-1

“My mom has been a great volleyball mom for eight years now. She has sacrificed so much for me and supports me no matter what. She is the first one to comfort me after a good or bad game. I appreciate and love her so much.” -- Lauren Miller, Coast 17-1

“Having a mom like mine is hard to come by. She’s a firefighter’s wife and mother of three athletes. She makes so many sacrifices, like driving me to practice two hours each way 3-4 times per week, on top of working. ... She is a supermom.” -- Morgan Collet, TCA 18-Black

“My mommy has been the best mom ever and I am so fortunate to be given her by God. (I don’t know if she feels the same way.) She is my hero. Being a single mom is an arduous task and she makes it look easy.” -- Erika Conners, Coast 17-1

“My mom has woken up early to take me to tournaments, drove me to practice and even got a job to help pay for all the fees for me and my sister. Even with four kids, she makes it a priority to come to everything she can and support me. I love her and would not be the same without her.” -- Karly Shockey, Club West 18-1

“My mommy is always there to support me through my experiences. It’s amazing to know I have a special person in my life who will always be by my side whether it’s at the volleyball court or hanging out at home. Being a stay-at-home mom, she is with me 24/7. She is the best friend and best mom I could ever ask for.” -- Breanna Barksdale, Coast 17-1

“My mom is always there for me, sacrificing her time and money so I can play. She is my No. 1 fan.” -- Rachel Seals, Club West 18-1

“My mom makes volleyball fun by supporting me and watching me play. She always makes sure I have everything for practice and tournaments. Love you, Mom!” -- Lexi Reddick, Coast 17-1

“I can’t thank my mom enough for the countless hours she has spent in gyms, the long drives and the best salads. She is always there, the loudest fan for the team. She may not know the game well, but she pushes us to win. I don’t know what I would do without her.” -- Missy Pittard, Solana Beach 18-1

“My mom is here always cheering me on. She wakes up early, even on her days off from work, makes me food and comes to every tournament.” -- Jené Lee, Club West 17-1

“My mom makes my volleyball experience fun by always being the loudest person on the sidelines cheering for me and my team. She makes sure I have all my stuff, including food and water. She is the best mom ever and I love her to death.” -- Raena Borcuk, Club West 17-1

“My mom constantly cheers for and supports me. She never complains about getting up early and supplies me with endless amounts of food and drink. Love you, Mom!” -- Claire Manhard, Coast 17-1

We notice all you do, moms. We appreciate and love you!

Read the previous installment of Cosy's blog – how to prepare for junior year – here.