East/West/North Xtra: District volleyball players earn high-performance ratings

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USA Volleyball, the national governing body for volleyball in the United States, promotes its sport though numerous competitions for various age groups each year.

The organization has what it refers to as a High Performance Department, which works to advance volleyball talent and build a broader and stronger pipeline of athletes and coaches for USA Olympic teams.

The High Performance Program bridges the gap between USA National teams and youth volleyball programs across the country. This is done through a system of national tryouts which then qualify athletes for training programs, camps, and Youth and Junior National teams.

The High Performance Program is the pipeline for volleyball athletes who aspire to reach the elite level of their sport and is intended to grow the pool of talented young players who may someday compete for a spot on the USA National and Olympic teams.

Athletes have two ways of qualifying for High Performance Programs. They can try out for U.S. squads at 30 qualifiers held at various sites across the country, or try out for various regional teams.

"I hand-picked 30 players from across the state of Pennsylvania for a tryout to pick this year's Keystone Region team," said Keystone Region coach Josh Brenneman, who also serves as coach at Central Dauphin High School. "We held a weekend tryout to pick 12 players to compete in the Boys International Youth Tournament, which features the top high school players in the country."

The team included nine players who were recognized on the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association all-state teams, and four players from the WPIAL. The players from the WPIAL were: Latrobe's Garrett Kollar, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart's Shaughn McDonald, Fox Chapel's Jaysen Zaleski and North Allegheny's Jeremy Best.

Kollar and McDonald are recent high school graduates, while Zaleski and Best recently completed their junior year.

"I qualified for the Keystone Region team last year, but we didn't do very well," said McDonald, who will continue his volleyball career at Saint Francis University. "This year, it was a different story. We played well enough to win the title."

McDonald and his Keystone Region teammates recorded eight consecutive victories at the four-day tournament July 22-26 at the Tulsa Convention Center.

"We're the first team from the Keystone Region to win a High Performance tournament," McDonald said. "It was the best team I've ever played on. It was a lot of fun."

Kollar was also making his second appearance in the Boys International Youth tournament, but his first on the Keystone Region team.

"Last year, I tried out at two of the United States qualifiers, in Rochester (N.Y.) and at Juniata College, and was picked for one of the United States teams. We finished second in the tournament. This year, I decided to try out for the Keystone Region team, and was glad I did."

Kollar's performance in last year's tournament played a big part in the scholarship he received from George Mason University.

"Our coach, Kevin Moore, told an assistant at George Mason to check me out," Kollar said. "That led to my scholarship."

Zaleski tried out last year, but didn't qualify for the Boys International Youth tournament.

"I competed at the regional level last year," Zaleski said. "It was an honor to make the Keystone Region team this year and come home with a gold medal."

Zaleski is hoping his performance will impress college coaches.

"All the top college coaches were there," Zaleski said. "That's the main reason I tried out. I wanted college coaches to see what I have to offer."

The same is true for Best, who was a right-side hitter and backup setter for the Tigers this past season. He will take over the setting duties at North Allegheny in the spring.

"I didn't play as much, since I was the backup setter," Best said. "But it was a great experience. The level of competition is incredible. The teams played at a much faster pace and were more physical."

The Keystone Region team defeated the top U.S. squad in the championship match.

"It's interesting that almost every player on our team tried out for the United States teams, but none of us were picked," Best said. "I guess we proved them wrong by winning the title."

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