by Thomas Hoffman
KANSAS CITY, MO – Both coaches and players alike were ready to shake off the cobwebs at College Camp Friday, signaling the beginning of the Triple Crown Volleyball NIT.
It’s been well over two months since the NCAA and high school seasons came to a close. Friday afternoon in Kansas City, each group got its chance for a little warm-up before games begin on Saturday.
For coaches like Keegan Cook of Washington, it was a rare chance to interact with a group of athletes rather than evaluating from the sidelines.
“We all have our university teams,” said Cook. “At these events, we’re mostly watching from the sidelines. To get to work with these athletes, there’s nothing more valuable than getting to know them and for them to get to know us. I really love getting to teach while also recruiting.”
The three-time Elite Eight head coach directed drills alongside Jonathan Winder of Fresno State, Rob Browning from Saint Mary’s and Long Beach State associate head coach Matt Fuerbringer. For 90 minutes, middle blockers and pin hitters from around the country soaked up every word and direction from the four coaches.
Houston native and AVA Texas club member Emma Williams was one of many eagerly looking forward to Friday’s experience.
“As a high school sophomore, you don’t get much college exposure, especially from outside the state,” Williams explained. “This tournament is so large that coaches aren’t always able to see every team play throughout the weekend. This camp was a way for me to make sure that wouldn’t happen.”
On top of assuring visibility, the camps provide avenues for athletes to hone in their skills as well as find new ways of approaching the game.
“I definitely loved the one-on-one coaching,” Williams said. “It was good to learn new ways to approach things. Footwork was a main focus point today and it was interesting learn a new way of thinking about my movements.”
While Emma and the others worked their heads around new concepts, coach Cook and the other coaches thrived on trying to instill core principles.
“It’s 90 minutes. They’re working really hard,” Cook said. “To expect them to perfect any concept in this timeframe is not realistic.
“Our hope is that they grab on to a principle or two that they can use later on with their teams.”
The format proves to be a win-win for both parties. While the players get quick instruction and valuable insight, the coaches get to dip their toes into the giant waters of this weekend’s tournament.
“It’s light and it’s pretty tight,” said Winder. “There’s not a lot wasted effort.
“This tournament brings so many talented clubs so there are a lot of really good players in these camps. It’s really cool to be able to coach them here and then get to watch them play for a couple of days.”
“I love it,” Cook said. “It prepares you for the weekend but it doesn’t exhaust you.”
At the end of the day, four top NCAA Division I programs and a handful of campers will each carry positive momentum into the weekend after insights curated within this unique opportunity.
“For the time you get to spend with the coaches and the things you learn, I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t want to come to these camps,” said Williams.