Volleyball’s block party
Memorial Day is typically a time for grilling, having picnics or enjoying the first peek at the summer sunshine. For 5,000 volleyball enthusiasts, the 2003 Memorial Day week was the perfect time for friends from all over the country to comE together for a week of volleyball and a great time in an incredibly gracious host city.
Those nearly 5,000 volleyball players playing on 480 different teams participated in the 75th USA Volleyball National Championships at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
The tournament was making its first stop in Minneapolis since 1945. Rich in history, the USAV Adult Nationals held its first event back in 1928 in Chattanooga, Tenn.
This event continues to attract the highest quality of players, including former Olympians, All-Americans and many current AVP and FIVB beach players.
Current beach stars and Olympians Misty May and Jeff Nygaard were just a few of the notable names that participated in this year’s event, which featured The Exterminators winning the Women’s Open title and Team Paul Mitchell continuing its mastery of the Men’s Open Division.
The field of 480 teams was divided into 25 different divisions playing on 40 different courts at the Convention Center. The event was broken into two waves throughout the Memorial Day week.
A total of 272 men’s teams, 175 women’s teams, 25 co-ed teams and eight Special Olympic teams competed for championships in the Open, Club, Masters (age 30 and over), Senior (age 50 and over) and Co-Ed Divisions. Pool play in each division was followed
For the older divisions, especially 60 and over, the number of players still playing competitive volleyball has slowly decreased and the teams and team members are scattered throughout the country.
Players in that senior age division come to this tournament and treat it as a reunion of sorts because it’s the one time of the year they can see each other, play against the best competition in the country and compete against the top athletes in their age bracket.
“Nationals is the ultimate in organized volleyball and the best competition next to the Olympics,” said participant Michael O’Hara, a member of the 1964 U.S. Men’s Olympic Team.
Past Olympians that competed at this year’s event included John Alstrom (1968), Patti Bright (1964), Janet Cobbs-Mulholland (1992), Misty May (2000), Jeff Nygaard (1996, 2000), Mike O’Hara (1964), Nancy Owen-Fortner (1968), Jon Stanley (1968), Rudy Suwara (1968), and Paula Weishoff (1984, 1992, 1996).
While the volleyball inside the convention center was top notch, the camaraderie among the teams and within the divisions was also highly visible and made the tournament that much more enjoyable.
Instead of enjoying what the Weather Channel called the best Memorial Day weather in the country, this group was inside playing the sport they love and vying for their respective titles.
The nightlife of the host city is just as big a part of the Nationals experience as anything that happens on the court. Members from all teams finish their games for the day and head out into the Minneapolis nightlife to fill the restaurants, clubs and especially the dance floors.
The city of Minneapolis, especially the downtown area, was a very gracious host considering the overwhelming presence of volleyball players that took over their streets until closing time nightly.
The volleyball community is truly a tight-knit circle and an incredible group of people. It certainly wasn’t an uncommon sight to walk. into a downtown establishment and see 50 volleyball players reveling after a day on the court, many who were standing on opposite sides of the net just a few hours earlier.
“This tournament is quite the time,” said Greg Cotton, who played for the TPC team in the Men’s Open Division. “The food in Minneapolis was good and the volleyball was better and the entertainment was great. I can’t wait for next year (in Atlanta).”
Several teams that participated in the 2003 tournament were put together by bringing in players from all over the country in order to field the best team.
2003 AVCA Newcomer of the Year Tyler Hildebrand (Long Beach State) played on the Team One Volleyball team in the Men’s Open Division. That team also featured University of Arizona women’s assistant coach Kevin Walker and former Rutgers player Jeremy Hoff, as well as University of Texas at El Paso women’s assistant Gregg Reitz.
Mass Express, playing in the Women’s 45 Division, included players from Massachusetts and Iowa who were once foes on the court, but recently completed their third year of successful competition at the tournament.
In the Club Division, regional champions from all over the country competed to determine the best of the best for 2003, After long seasons of numerous tournament it was their time to take it to the highest level. XDSU, winners of the Women’s AA division, was comprised of former North and South Dakota State players who have reigned over their region and now have a national title as well.
Creativity is also a must for this tournament. The World’s Strongest Men from the Men’s Open Division not only wowed the crowd with their skills and great play, but also took home numerous votes for best and most daring uniforms including short shorts, knee socks and creative sweatbands. Tie-dye still managed to reign supreme in the Senior Division, while the Men’s Club teams stuck to board shorts in their true conservative fashion.
Besides the uniforms, there is always an attempt to come up with the most creative name. This year the USAV staff gave that honor to Setting Tiger, Spiking Dragon, even though they had such creative competition as 976-Babes, Senior Discount, Kung Pow and Six Odd Broads.
With such a wide-spectrum of volleyball opportunities from the 70’s, to the Open to the Special Olympic divisions, the USA Volleyball National Championships is not only a true spectacle for the sport, but also creates an atmosphere unlike any other volleyball tournament. -Tina Carter
EXTERMINATORS: A PERENNIAL WOMEN’S OPEN DIVISION FORCE Back in 1979, Steve Warren started attending the USA Volleyball National Championships as a spectator.
“That year it was in Akron, Ohio and was close enough where I could go and watch,” said Warren. “What I saw was unbelievable. The names you had always heard about like the Karch Kiraly’s became real people to me. It was a blast. That became my vacation.”
Several years later, Warren, who had some previous playing and coaching experience, started to investigate the possibility of assembling his own team and bringing it to the national extravaganza.
“I started thinking, I could put together a team that could do really good in this,” said Warren.
Over the last decade, Warren has done exactly that, consistently assembling teams comprised of former collegiate All-Americans that are perennial contenders in the Women’s Open Division.
Warren’s Exterminators-the name derived from his suburban Chicago extermination company-recently won its second Women’s Open National Championship going a perfect 7-0 and defeating the U.S. Women’s National Training Team for the 2003 Open Championship at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
The Exterminators also won the 1998 title and have finished fourth or higher in eight of the 11 years Warren has brought a team to the event.
“Two-time national champions has a nice ring to it,” said Warren, whose company sponsors the team and all of its expenses. “This year was a very tough field. The National Training Team had a lot of size. There were a lot of very good ballplayers here.”
The Exterminators were certainly no slouches in the talent department this year, featuring a team loaded with former United States Professional Volleyball (USPV) stars, including 2002 USPV league MVP Benishe Roberts, along with middle blocker Amber Woolsey, outside hitter Kim Zschau, middle blocker Makare Wilson and setter Courtney DeBolt.
The team also featured current AVP beach player Tracy Lindquist, along with current Penn State players Sam Tortorello and Cara Smith, as well as Wisconsin alum Lori Rittenhouse, and former Oklahoma star Patrice Arrington, who was named the tournament’s MVR
“We had players on this team with a lot of experience,” said Arrington, who played on her third Warren-sponsored team. “All of us had either played together or played against each other. We’re all friends and we all know each other, so that really helped. We had a great group of athletes on the team. Everybody wants to play for a good team and wants to win.”
Warren has been able to assemble top-notch teams through a combination of his own scouting and general word of mouth.
“Volleyball is a small community and you end up knowing a lot of people,” said Warren. “There are situations where a player will say they have a friend who is really good that wants to play. You have to network.”
The Exterminators defeated the U.S. Women’s National Training Team three times during the competition. That team was comprised of players currently training at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., including the likes of current college stars Emily Adams (USC), Jennifer Joines (Pacific), Katie Olsovsky (USC) and Kim Glass (Arizona), along with 2003 AVCA All-American setter Brittany Hochevar (Long Beach State) and former high school phenom Tracy Stalls.
The field in the Women’s Open Division also included the Laguna Beach Volleyball Club, headlined by beach standout Misty May, along with former collegiate stars Joy McKenzie (Long Beach State), Alyson Randick (UCLA), Michelle Kyman (UCLA), Kristy Kieruff (Long Beach State) and Christine Gardner (Arizona State), as well as former USPV stars Jenna Wrobel and Christy Chapman.
May, McKenzie, Randick, Kyman, Kieruff, Gardner and Chapman were on the team that won the 2002 Open title.
The Exterminators edged Laguna Beach in a five-set thriller during opening round competition. -Mike Miazga
To find out what some of the USAV National Championships participants had to say about this year’s event, check out this month’s Fan Forum on the Volleyball website at www.volleyballmag.com/usav
Copyright Ashton International Media, Inc. Aug 2003
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