Sixty volleyball players from 17 area school districts will be competing for the Pittsburgh Volleyball Club at the 35th annual United States Boys' Junior National Volleyball Championships June 28-July 5 at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas.
"This is the fifth year for our club and the fifth year we have teams competing at the national championships," said North Allegheny coach Dan Schall, who serves as volleyball director for the club. "We sent six teams the first year, seven teams the next two years, six teams last year, and six teams this year."
The Junior National Championships feature the top teams in the country in seven age groups: 18-and-under, 17-and-under, 16-and-under, 15-and-under, 14-and-under, 13-and-under and 12-and-under.
"All seven age brackets have a club division in which any team may participate," Schall said. "In the 18, 17, 16, 15 and 14 age brackets, they also have an open division. The open division is much tougher and all teams must qualify. The best teams in the country are in the open brackets."
The Pittsburgh Volleyball Club has six teams entered in five age brackets.
"We had three teams qualify for the open division," Schall said. "That's the most teams we've had qualify in one year. The open division tournaments have only 36 teams in each bracket. The club division tournaments have 40-60 teams, depending on how many entries they get.
"We have two 18-and-under teams, one that qualified for the open division and another that is entered in the club division," Schall said. "We also have teams that qualified for the 17-and-under and 15-and-under open tournaments. All three teams earned their bid during the winter season."
The PVC also has 18-and-under, 16-and-under and 14-and-under teams entered in the club tournaments.
"It's an awesome experience for the kids to play against the top players in the United States," said Derry coach Shawn Spencer, who serves as head coach of the 18-and-under team that qualified for the open division. "It's a long tournament that tests not only your physical ability, but also your mental ability."
Spencer's 18-and-under team features 11 players from the WPIAL, all of whom were All-WPIAL selections. Seven of the eleven were voted to the first team in their class. The Class AAA first-team stars are: North Hills' Noah Bostick, North Allegheny's Brendan Brown, Butler's Matt Huey and Latrobe's Garrett Kollar. The Class AA first-teamers are Derry's duo of Matt Vasinko and Izaak Fulmer-Moffat, and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart's Shaughn McDonald.
A total of 21 PVC players were honored as All-WPIAL, along with two players from Obama Academy who were recognized as All-City League.
"It's nice to have my own players involved," Spencer said. "But what's more important is growing volleyball in the area. The big scheme of this club is to keep promoting the game of boys volleyball."
The PVC has held three practices a week since the high school season ended to prepare for the national tournaments. All practices are held at the Monroeville Sports Complex.
"Each club member pays a fee that depends on whether they participate during the winter," said North Allegheny assistant coach Pete Madia, who serves as club director. "The fee covers uniforms, rental for training facilities, a fee for the coaches, and hotel expenses. Each player and any parents must pay for their transportation costs and meals during the trip."
Madia handles the administrative aspect of the group.
"Pete is the brains of the group," Dan Schall said. "He does a lot of different things for the club."
"Dan handles the volleyball side of it, while I handle the business end of it," Madia said. "He's more in communication with the coaches planning practices and picking the teams."
The PVC has had four teams earn top 10 finishes. In 2010, they had an 18-and-under team place fourth in the open division. In 2012, they had an 18-and-under team place fifth in the club division.
Last year, the PVC had two teams place in the top 10 in their bracket. Their 14-and-under team placed second in the club division to record the highest finish by an East Coast team in that division. They also had a 16-and-under team place ninth in the club division.
"It's a fun time for the kids," said Bethel Park coach Tom Allman, a former club coach who has three players going to Houston with the PVC. "It's good exposure for the kids because every college has a coach or two scouting the talent."
Fox Chapel's Phil O'Keeffe is head coach of the 18-and-under team in the club division.
"I have eight of my Fox Chapel kids participating, including two on my team," O'Keeffe said. "Most of them started playing on our 14-and-under team. Any time you get kids playing during the offseason is a positive. You can't beat the experience you get from playing top competition from around the country."
Montour has one player on O'Keeffe's squad, outside hitter Zach Renninger.
"I played club ball when I was in high school," said Montour coach/alumni Brendon Aleski. "It's a great experience for the kids to play against the best competition in the country."
Each team will play at least three matches per day for three days. A knock-off round will be held for the top teams on the fourth day.
"They will have 50-60 courts set up in the convention center," Madia said. "It's great to see the look on the kids faces when they walk in and see it for the first time. It's courts as far as the eye can see. It's a pretty cool experience for the kids."
Schall and Madia are hoping to send even more teams next year, as the tournament will be held in Columbus, Ohio.