Photo by Mike Grieshop
One of the magic acts in a successful club volleyball program is creating a place where athletes offer up every ounce of their competitive fire, while cooling the emotions that tend to percolate when many people aspire to the same thing.
Scholarships, playing time, a sense of progress on a long, hard journey … these are the subplots of club volleyball, and Mintonette Volleyball Club (based in Columbus, OH) has shown a command of the little things that lead to major success on the national stage. The club will be there in force at the Triple Crown NIT in Kansas City, with four teams in action from Feb. 16-18.
Club director, coach and recruiting coordinator Max Miller started Mintonette in 2006, having already soaked up lessons and insight from a 10-year run with the Central Ohio VBC. Seeing a vacancy in terms of organized travel teams and the accompanying focus on college opportunities, Miller and his staff have grown Mintonette into a notable regional power – he has two USAV age-group national titles on his own, in 2013 and 2017.
Players get a reminder every time they suit up on Miller’s vision for the organization.
“It’s on the toes of our socks - #CTP, which stands for club, team, player. You are part of something bigger than yourself, and something bigger than your team, even,” said Miller, who coached high school for 20 years and is also head coach at the University of Northwestern Ohio. “To empower them to be part of something bigger than themselves is exciting and refreshing for the parents, too.
“We’ve had five Big Ten setters in the last seven years, and fortunate to have a former All-American setter (Audrey Flaugh), who is the lead trainer for our setters. I’m big on the defensive end as well. When we realized we had the top kids in the area we started to branch out, and shortly we had folks coming in from Dayton. Toledo, Cincinnati … we even got a kid who lives right at the West Virginia state line, driving two hours and 40 minutes one way just to practice. Once we saw those type of kids making the effort, we thought this would be a bigger deal.”
Along with figuring out the mix of talent and vision, Mintonette has emphasized the development of its coaching staff, a unit that pilots 31 teams through the schedule. Nothing is quite as useful as having your own training facility, and Miller got that solved a couple years ago with the purchase of the Columbus Volleyball Center. Mintonette also has strict policies that allow coaches to do their job with minimal static from the outside.
“We treat our coaches like college coaches, telling them and the parents that if there’s an issue, you come to the admin and not the coach. Kids can go to the coach, but our policy is parents don’t at all,” Miller said. “Now, if there’s a situation where we need a sit-down, we’ll deal with it then. That way, we take the emotions out of it, and then our coaches come back. They primarily have other jobs and do this because they have a passion for the kids or for the sport. We tell people we are in the kid business, not the adult or parent business.”
Mintonette certainly served the career arc of middle blocker Katie Myers, who played with the club for five years before signing at Maryland – she’s fought off two seasons of knee injuries, leading the Big Ten in aces last season (53) and the Terrains in blocks (122). Her club era was demanding, but characterized by genuine affection for the process.
“I would have to start with the coaches; they really pushed me and my teammates to give our very best every single practice. We also put that on each other, where if you ever saw someone slack off, you’d say, hey, we’re trying to win,” said Myers, who was 14th in the nation in aces in 2018. “We became very competitive – my teams jelled very well, and I had a lot of fun. Over time, the younger girls would look up to us, and we would try to be leaders. It put a lot on your shoulders, but it helped, and they try to do that still today.
“It was intense, and we worked our tails off. You always keep in mind what you’re trying to achieve. It helped so much before college, and I said that Maryland’s practices were just like my club practices. Other than the weightlifting and the cardio, it was the same competitively, and we worked on fundamentals every day, because if you don’t have those you won’t succeed. The speed I guess was different, because this is Big Ten volleyball.”
Myers said the probable highlight of her time at the club built up not only her skill level, but her confidence and sense that volleyball was the perfect fit for her ambitions.
“Playing 16s, I was a sophomore, and that was my team’s prime where everything clicked and we wanted to work so hard for each other,” she said. “The older girls were looking at us to win, and the younger ones were looking up for us to be leaders. When we qualified for Open, it felt so amazing, and then we thought, why not go for more?”
Miller certainly understand the concept of “more” seeing as he simultaneously took on the job at Northwestern Ohio, wrapped up the purchase of the training facility, assisted his wife through her master’s degree studies and tackled the usual stack of chores around Mintonette.
“I took the college job when I was bored at the high school level and losing my fire,” said Miller, whose college team was 26-9 last season. “I was so wrapped up in the sport that knew if I wasn’t involved in the volleyball year-round, I’d probably drive everyone around me crazy. This opportunity came up, and my wife said, take it.”
NOTE: Mintonette will bring its top 14u, 15u, 16u and 17u teams to Kansas City; the club has been approached before to play in the TC NIT, but the trek to Salt Lake City (the previous host) was an awkward fit, as Miller said the club is always trying to monitor time missed from school.