Pulling together is one of the fundamental requirements of quality volleyball, and it’s something the MAVS club program (based in suburban Kansas City) has appreciated from the start.
Even to the point of pulling together so they could attach a net to the side walls of an elementary school gym – exactly the kind of spartan surroundings that characterized MAVS’ early years, and exactly what players, coaches and admins were will to work through with the goal of building something great. Today, MAVS fields 40 girls teams and seven boys squads, with an established yet blossoming reputation as a program that fields skillful, determined athletes (including a USA Junior Nationals championship unit at 16s last year).
The 2019 edition of the Triple Crown NIT will include MAVS for the first time, with 13 teams suiting up.
Put it that way, and 1996 seems like a million years ago, when club founder Dave Gentile started the idea after his daughter and a handful of her friends didn’t make the cut at another program, and all the other options had dried up. His so-called “Bad News Bears” outfit just kept on chugging, playing on carpeted gym floors, while parents such as Kate Schnitta (also a high school varsity coach) and Kathy Bates (who is now MAVS club director) poured hours into the enterprise.
“Where it all began is still very much an important part of who we are today. We had such fun and great success that expanding was easy, but we really never envisioned the demand for more teams,” said Gentile, who is a business consultant and coach for MAVS today. “It made sense we would grow as there were so few clubs or teams available for a sport that was beginning to wake up across the country. The early days of MAVS had the club operating on a shoestring out of my garage and Kathy’s kids’ playroom until we landed a partnership with a local fitness facility and a sponsorship with ASICS.
“We realized we had a real deal when we were working out of a garage, had eight teams scrambling for courts and the three leaders were confident this was a club for the future. Even with a two-court fitness facility we still needed courts. So we had to work hard at relationships with the various school districts in the area.”
When the MAVS folks needed a break, solutions (fueled by tenacious work) had a way of materializing. A private high school, St. Thomas Aquinas, took a shine to how MAVS displayed and grew a family-first approach and donated precious gym time on selected weekday evenings and Sundays.
Another boost in fortune came when multiple players from the area’s two top clubs came to a MAVS tryout and decided to explore this new brand. Funding, competitive ability, facilities and vision meant MAVS had arrived.
“This meant we were now being accepted as a competitive and sustainable program. I was really committed to the effort and was willing to make some significant financial investments for the success of the club,” Gentile said. “Early on coaches were actually lining up to help. I’m not sure what the magic was, other than we were family focused and supported coaches in all they did for the teams and club. Once we got to a scalable size, which was around 14 teams, we really knew we were in for the long haul.”
Bates has had a front-row seat for all of this, appreciating not only the chance to coach her daughters and evolve in the sport, but to share the MAVS recipe with other families and anchor the club as an immovable force in the community.
“The kids and their families are what I love most about my profession. The relationships I have made and the lessons I continue to learn are simply amazing. I quit coaching for one year to be a volleyball ‘mom’ and MAVS administrator, and I missed it deeply,” Bates said. “However, probably the most significant reason I stayed with MAVS years ago was the opportunity to coach my girls when they were young and watch them grow up in our MAVS family environment. They were both blessed with caring coaches and teammates year after year, and we have some wonderful memories that are priceless.”
MAVS is determined to be thoughtful amid all this growth, fully aware of the cost of nearly year-round demands. Room is carved so athletes can play other sports and stick to the most important plan … faith, family, school and sport.
“Our way to cope with burnout is to accept that volleyball does not come first. Our high school age teams practice later in the evening to accommodate their school conflicts,” Bates added. “We do not mandate anything over three practices a week. We offer additional training sessions and a speed and agility program, but those programs are optional. We know they are busy and we want our volleyball facility to be a low-stress, forget-all-your-troubles kind of place.”
“Today, we continue to be the club of choice, a family-based program in it for the long haul as we believe volleyball, more than any other sport, teaches young women and men what teamwork and a focused effort can mean in their lives going forward,” Gentile said.