by Bob San
SUN PRESS Newspapers
Ear plugs, Advil and lots of fantastic volleyball action.
That’s what visitors to the recent the 2014 USA Volleyball Girls’ Junior National Championships, or JO Nationals, found at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
According to organizers, the event attracted nearly 9,500 athletes and over 20,000 spectators. The tournament crowned 19 champions in age divisions ranging from 12 to 18. The event, showcasing the top talent from across the nation, also drew hundreds of college recruiters.
Many volleyball players from Osseo and Maple Grove participated in the tournament. For the local players, the JO Nationals differed from other tournaments in the talent level of its participants.
“The level of competition at JO nationals is much higher and we cannot look past any team because they are at nationals for a reason,” said Maple Grove junior middle Lauren Bright, who played for the Northern Lights 16-2 team that won the national AAU championship just prior to the JO Nationals. “In other tournaments, the first day we usually play teams that aren’t very strong, but in JO nationals every game we play we are presented with a new challenge across the net. Being a blocker, I enjoy playing against smart, strong hitters.”
Osseo junior middle Tina Boe said JO Nationals is unique because of its length.
“Most tournaments are two to three days long and sometimes even only one day but JO Nationals is a full four-day event,” said Boe, who played for Minnesota Select 15-1’s. “This poses a big challenge on the body and team chemistry to stay strong over four days.”
Boe agreed with Bright that competition at the JO Nationals is by far the best she played in each summer.
“The thing I like best about JO nationals is that it is the highest caliber of competition in the club season,” Boe said. “Nationals is the pinnacle of our season and it is what we work for all year long. In my opinion, it is more fun to play a team that poses a challenge than to beat a lower level team 25 to 0. All the teams that participate in the Open division of Nationals had to prove that they belong there by earning a qualifying bid at another high level tournament at some point in their season. That’s what makes nationals so great: there are so many great teams to play, all in one place.”
Maple Grove senior setter Paige Aspinwall, who played for the Mizuno Northern Lights 16-Black team added, “JO Nationals is different from any other tournaments because you need to qualify in order to participate so that makes the competition very strong. I love the atmosphere.”
Speaking of atmosphere, the JO Nationals is for many the loudest tournaments they have ever attended. In the first two days, there were times when over 100 matches were going on at the same time in the convention and the constant noise levels could be overwhelming for some. Many veterans to this event recommended newcomers to bring ear plugs and lots of Advil.
“With all the whistle blowing and cheering coming from over 100 different courts the convention center can reach painful levels of noise,” Boe said. “But as a player I like it that way. I feed off the energy that fills the noisy gym and it fuels me to play harder.”
“Many parents on my team wear ear plugs in the facility, but while playing, we don’t hear all of the noise because we’re focused on hearing each other,” Bright said.
Bright and Aspinwall were both glad that this year’s JO Nationals was held in Minneapolis.
“Last year I wasn’t a part of the Northern Lights volleyball club, and my team didn’t attend the JO nationals in Dallas,” Bright said. “I did hear that going straight from nationals in Florida to nationals in Texas was a bit hectic, so I’m glad that Minneapolis got to host this tournament.”
“I was really glad it was held in Minneapolis this year since we just came home from the Orlando AAU Nationals a few days before this started,” Aspinwall said. “It’s also nice to sleep in your own bed too. We play tournaments in the convention center twice a year so the environment was very familiar to me.”
Boe, however, had mixed feelings about having the JO Nationals at home.
“I am both glad and bummed that Nationals was in Minnesota this year,” Boe said. “I got to come home every day and sleep in my own bed and eat my own food, but I didn’t get to spend as much time with my team and since we weren’t staying in a hotel it just didn’t feel as special as Nationals has in the past.”
The JO Nationals is now history but Bright, Boe and Aspinwall all came away satisfied with their experience there.
“It’s definitely the best tournament competition wise,” said Aspinwall.
Contact Bob San at firstname.lastname@example.org