Olympic-Bound or Not, JVA Competition Develops High-Level Volleyball Players
The U.S. Women's National Volleyball team boasts five players with Junior Volleyball Association ties, but their presence provides only a snapshot of the junior club association's success in developing talent.
Prior to competing with Team USA at the 2016 Olympic games in Rio De Janeiro, setter Alisha Glass, opposite Kelly Murphy, and outside hitters Jordan Larson and Kelsey Robinson all honed their skills as high schoolers playing in the JVA against some of the top talent in the country— and the high-level competition was imperative to their success, said several of their former coaches.
Nebraska Juniors Club Director Gwen Egbert said JVA clubs boast rosters filled with future first- or second-team All-Americans and national championship winners, which raises the level of play at the association's tournaments held throughout the Midwest.
Dead Frog Far-Out Volleyball Club co-director Joe Steenhuysen agreed, saying that the competition is why former players go on to achieve at the collegiate level and beyond.
"That's what makes you good," he said. "To us, it's the key."
Both can identify several former players who benefited from their time in the JVA.
Before achieving her Olympic dreams and a stellar career at Penn State, Alisha Glass was coached by Steenhuysen at the Michigan-based DFFO, one of the many JVA clubs making an imprint on NCAA Division I volleyball.
The club also developed fellow Big Ten Conference competitors Katie Schau (Minnesota), Kayla Morin (Northwestern) and former Ohio State star Andrea Kacsits, while former DFFO players Amanda and Abby McKinzie are at Virginia Tech of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Egbert coached Larson with the Nebraska Juniors in the early 2000s. Larson had a strong college career at the University of Nebraska, a powerhouse that draws many former Juniors. Amber and Kadie Rolfzen, Olivia Boender, Kelly Hunter and Sydney Townsend all played for the Cornhuskers' 2015 National Championship team.
Some JVA clubs, such as Munciana, don't have Olympic alumnae to boast of yet, but still have many skilled players succeeding in Division I volleyball. The Indiana-based club has nine different NCAA Division I All-American award-winners, as well as an American Volleyball Coaches Association National Player of the Year and National Freshman of the Year. High school-level award-winners abound, with 30 All-Americans and three Gatorade National Player of the Year winners.
"The one thing we're still waiting for is to get a kid on the national team and (in) the Olympics," Munciana Co-Director Mike Lingenfelter said.
Lingenfelter knows playing in the JVA can be one step on a player's climb to Team USA. He believes he's coached against each of the players on the national team at some point in their club days.
"Every single kid on that roster we did battle with at some time or another," Lingenfelter said.
Facing future Olympians and NCAA stars gives players experience competing at a higher game speed that neither the best practice drills nor the toughest prep programs can recreate.
"A lot of times if you play high school, you don't get great competition," Egbert said. "When you play club, you're playing against the best in the country."
That was true for Larson, a multi-sport athlete in high school who traveled from her hometown of Hooper to Lincoln to play with the Nebraska Juniors.
"You could just see the potential in her," Egbert said.
Larson showed her talent early in club play, when as a sophomore she held her own against seniors, and eventually developed into a strong blocker. Larson went on to help the Cornhuskers win the 2006 nationaltitle before realizing her dream of playing for Team USA.
"She wanted to play in the Olympics," Egbert added. Larson is a two-time Olympian.
Potential for improvement also drove Glass to the JVA. She made the long trip from Leland to DFFO, based in the cities of Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Lansing. Playing against teams succeeding at the national level fueled her competitive nature.
"That just brought more and more out of her," Steenhuysen said.
Penn State certainly benefited down the road as the Nittany Lions won three consecutive national titles (2007-2010) with Glass in the lineup. She also has seven gold medals in international competitions through FIVB and the North, Central America and Caribbean Volleyball Confederation (NORCECA).
"She was a kid who could do it all," Steenhuysen said.
Whether a player can do it all or only a little, joining a JVA club can provide abundant opportunities to keep growing. The high level of competition afforded by the association will continue to attract and develop the talent that NCAA programs and beyond will only benefit from.
Former JVA players on Team USA:
A 6-foot setter, Alisha Glass has a lot of international competition experience going into her first Olympic games. The former Penn State star helped Team USA win gold at the 2014 FIVB World Championship and earned Best Setter honors in the process. Glass also won six other gold medals in FIVB or NORCECA tournaments. Glass played JVA for DFFO.
Rachel Adams played for defunct JVA Team Z, a former member club. She is a middle blocker who won the 2014 World Championship gold medal with the United States national team.
A two-time Olympian, Jordan Larson plays outside hitter for Team USA. She helped team USA take silver in 2012 at the London Olympic games and also helped the national team win the 2014 FIVB World Championship. A former Nebraska Cornhuskers star, Larson played JVA for Nebraska Juniors.
Kelly Murphy is making her Olympic debut, and the opposite for Team USA previously tallied a team-high 157 points at the 2014 FIVB World Championship. The former Florida Gators star played JVA for Sports Performance in Illinois.
Kelsey Robinson, a 6-2 outside hitter, is making her Olympic debut with Team USA. The former Nebraska star earned Best Receiver honors at the 2016 NORCECA Olympic Qualification Tournament. She previously competed with Sports Performance.
A current member of the United States women's national volleyball team, opposite Karsta Lowe played JVA for the Wave in California.
About the Author
This article is written by by Matthew Davis from SportsEngine, the official technology partner of the JVA. SportEngine offers special pricing and packages exclusive to JVAmember clubs. More than just a website, SportsEngine can help you solve serious challenges you face with tryouts, billing and collections, team communication, tournaments, and more. For more information click here.