By Kyle Koso
With 60 courts taking over the Salt Palace Convention Center, it’s helpful to imagine the Triple Crown Volleyball NIT as a city, bustling with people and activity.
As the twists and turns of the event play out, it’s rewarding to explore some of the off-ramps at the NIT, such as the Hospitality Zones and seminars, but one of the main attractions is clearly College Camp Friday, a one-of-a-kind setting for college coaches to work shoulder-to-shoulder with student-athletes hungry to learn more about the sport to which they already devote so much time, heart and soul.
On 12 courts at Salt Palace, Triple Crown welcomed 350-plus players with 24 colleges from all levels of the game. Rather than athletes needing to go campus-hopping to get in front of colleges, dozens of schools planted their flag at the NIT, making it easy for players to get a look at what would be expected at the next level.
“I really want to push myself; my goal this year is to be truly committed and show what I’ve got,” said Michelle Won, 15, a Newport Beach, CA native who plays for the A4 16’s team and attended the libero camp hosted by academic powers like Harvard and Northwestern. “My heart is set on one of these academic schools, and I wanted to show them exactly what I can put on the court. I really liked it; we incorporated a lot of skills, but at the same time we were having fun. It was competitive, people were working as hard as they can, and the coaches were really nice.”
“To get more insight, and to get a different look on how to approach things … my attacking and blocking, just getting a new look,” said Grace Hicks, 16, who plays for the Splash 17s out of Spokane, WA., and took part in one of the high-achiever hitting clinics “I definitely thought it was good. There was some slow work, but it was very technical then, and it was good to slow it down there. I think I rise to the occasion (playing in front of new faces), and I like it. This was all about the experience.”
The range and depth of the programs at College Camp Friday included national powerhouses like Stanford, USC, Minnesota, Washington and Florida, but the mix included terrific mid-major schools and small colleges with the upper D-I motivations to excel.
The entire session echoed something Triple Crown has done in youth fastpitch for years, but the idea had never been grafted onto a volleyball scene before.
“I noticed all the volleyball tournaments I went to, no one ever had this. We talked to elite schools, and they said they’d love to do a camp – it would be very interesting,” said TC NIT director Sean Hardy. “It started with four college coaches I had good relationships with, and they told more …. Patty (Costlow) with Munciana said she’d help and wanted to see what it could become. As late as yesterday, I had 10 more colleges wanting to get involved.
“The concept in volleyball had never been done. There are some now who will probably start. This has been unbelievable – I was shocked, and we had to add camps because some filled up so fast. We added Utah and West Virginia just a bit ago … I can’t complain.”
The depth of the coaching insight played out on all courts – there was West Virginia head coach Reed Sunahara leading a drill, with Munciana club director and 18s coach Mike Lingenfelter right there to amplify a thought or concept. Coaches would urge the girls to get uncomfortable, to test their limits, while always there to encourage effort and determination.
“They were intent and thirsty to learn. Even though it was two hours, they made it very enjoyable – they had a good time, and it was an impressive group of athletes,” said Harvard head coach Jennifer Weiss. “Triple Crown is running this event very well. It is important to include the college coaches, and for us to be able to interact with the girls, it’s just great for them. I think Sean’s doing a wonderful job.”
“This was a unique opportunity for our school and program to be in this atmosphere. Have some eye-to-eye contact, be coaching in your camp and not just running it,” said Rhode Island head coach Steve Santonastaso. “You get into the gears of it here. You know, they may have wondered, do I belong here, will I mess it up for everybody … you give them a sense of security, and once you get them over that hurdle, everything is great.
“The kids to do this fast, only two hours … they had to create a relaxed atmosphere. Our players were great – they were energetic, and once they understood the drills and we whacked a couple balls at them, the confidence level would start to rise and you see more of the smiles and personalities. The eye contact was great.”