by Matt Antonic
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The snowstorm had slowed activity in downtown Kansas City to a halt, but the floor of the city’s convention center is still bustling. Youth volleyball teams from across the country are participants in the annual Triple Crown Volleyball NIT, an event featuring nearly 580 squads.
It’s Friday, and the sounds of screaming and cheering are missing.
They won’t be heard until the competitive tournament begins Saturday. Instead, college coaches are running a skills camp, designed to give girls a chance to work with those at the higher levels of the sport.
Texas A&M volleyball coach Laura Kuhn explains a drill to the girls who have rotated on to her court. There are no balls involved. This drill focuses purely on movement and footwork. “Finish and face every time,” she calls out as the girls practice a variety of cuts toward the net.
“Footwork is so imperative for middles,” Kuhn said. “Transition, blocking, no matter what it is, that’s how they beat people. They have to move away from the ball and they have to be efficient.”
Kuhn has become a regular at youth tournaments and skill camps, which is why she has joined hundreds of collegiate coaches at the Triple Crown event to teach and scout.
“We always talk about hearing different voices, hearing different ways of doing things, I think it gives them a variety, and it gives them a chance to work with us,” she said.
She runs the drill with the help of Michigan coach Mark Rosen and Saint Louis coach Kent Miller. The opportunity to get instruction from college coaches has helped girls like Taylor Johnson improve their skills.
“It is really beneficial,” said Johnson, a high school sophomore and member of the Minnesota Select Club. “They give out really good advice and I see other coaches perspectives.”
Like many of the participants, Johnson has attended skills camps before, but the size and magnitude of this event is unlike anything she has done before. “I’ve done camps separately, but this is the first time where I’ve seen so many college coaches at one,” she said.
Across the convention center floor, Indiana coach Steve Aird is running through a final drill with his group, and now girls are going at full speed. One particular rally drags on, much to his liking, including a spectacular dig that earns an excited shout from the coach.
“They’re going into a big tournament that matters to them a lot,” Aird said. “You want them to stay positive and have a great event, and if they can get one or two things from the coaches and know that we care about them having a great experience, that’s the most important thing.”
It’s 1 o’clock now, marking the skills camp’s conclusion. Before the girls file out to prepare for later workouts or for the opening round of the tournament Saturday morning, Aird and the other coaches gather their groups on the courts for one final motivational message.
“Because they are doing stuff like this they are obviously pretty highly motivated kids, and for us it’s an opportunity to give back to kids who want to achieve,” Aird said. “If we get to know the kids and how they play, I think that’s a cool bonus.”