The club season for the 18s teams has changed drastically over the past couple of years primarily with efforts to shorten the length of the club season, and a variety of season-ending championships to choose from.
We believe that there are two reasons for the change:
- To address “senioritis” aka the classic transition from “I love my club volleyball season and teammates and can’t imagine leaving them” to “I am so tired of the grind of the junior volleyball club season and can’t wait to begin my college career.”
- Incoming freshman being asked or told to report to their DI college program for the summer semester.
To address this seeming need for an earlier end to the junior club season, four years ago USAV moved their U-18’s championships to the end of April. This past year, AAU moved their U-18’s championships to Memorial Day Weekend. The USAV championships is a three-day event in which the teams need to qualify by winning a bid at one of the USAV qualifying events. The AAU Championships is a three-day event held in Orlando. It is an all-comers event and no qualification is necessary. The event is kicked-off with a banquet on the Friday evening before the championships for the teams and their families. The cost of the dinner for the teams is picked up by AAU.
We reached out to a number of JVA members to find out what works best for their athletes’, their club, and their families.
A4 Volley Director Joaquin Acosta attended the USAV Championships in April and said it is a great event, well organized, with amazing competition. However, he feels that April is too early for a championship, and the girls need more time in the gym to train before they head off their college program.
“With the championship in April, the event schedule for the 18’s with fitting in multiple qualifiers is very expensive and exhausting. Once qualified, there is little time left to book flights and hotel rooms.”
Joaquin would love to see an all-comer championship for the 18’s, allowing teams to choose their level of competition and get rid of the qualifier system for the 18’s.
Asics Munciana Co-Director and 18 Samurai Coach Mike Lingenfelter enjoyed having AAU Nationals during Memorial Day Weekend. “I LOVED the three day event, can’t say enough how great that was. The holiday weekend saved the kids and parents a day of missing school and work. I also LOVED being done at the end of May. It allowed me to have time for family, and self, time to take care of business – it was very freeing.”
Mike also felt that three days is plenty for the event at the end of the season when the kids are beat up and exhausted already. He did feel that the event could be improved.
“The down side was the lack of energy and bodies due to no other age groups, no teams from your club to help cheer you on. It was hard to build energy.”
Mike suggested to bring in the younger age groups that don’t need to play 4 days such as the 11’s and 12’s, so they can end their season earlier too.
While talking to the coaches and club directors about their year-end experience at the USAV Championships, we found that many clubs felt that, while they loved their experience at the event, April was much too early to end their season and found some other options to end their season.
MN Select Director Scott Jackson says the vast majority of their athletes do not report to college until August. “It is hard for them to stay in shape and ready for college without being in the gym longer. It is also hard to hold them in the gym just training without an event to look forward to.”
This year his 18s finished the season at the Stars and Stripes Memorial Day event in Minneapolis, hosted by Northern Lights and Milwaukee Sting. “It had a good level of competition and for our families it was a cost savings to play in our backyard.”
A4 Director, Joaquin Acosta, agreed that the April date was too soon to end their season and decided to attend the JVA West Coast Cup in Long Beach during Memorial Day weekend. He said “the kids enjoyed the tournament, the location and the finals that were planned for the 18 Open and 18 Club was super impressive.”
Northern Lights Director Curt Glessman shared that his club gives the18’s a choice on how to end the season. They will play in a few qualifiers and then they take a trip to Europe. They may also then choose, depending on location and cost, to attend AAUs or USAVs.. This year the 18-1’s went to Italy over spring break and then competed in AAUs.
Jennifer Cottrill of Legacy Volleyball Club’s 18s played in both USAVs and AAUs. They liked ending the season earlier but suggested moving up AAU’s a week or two so that USAV’s are at the end of April and then AAU’s are two weekends later, ending the 18s season in the middle of May.
Dennis Palpallatoc of Temecula Valley Viper Volleyball Club had attended the AAU Championships in the past. He feels that the 18s Division of Club is not what it used to be.
“I think it has been devalued thru the past couple years. AAU was our favorite tournament of the year! I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the timing of it. I know we lost a few seniors because of early departure to college, but that was a very small percentage. I think ending our 18s season at the end of April or at the end of May is too early for the majority of seniors who don’t leave early for college and are actually trying to make sure they are prepared to play in college. The number of 18s that attended the 18s AAU National Tournament in May and that will be attending presently really pales in comparison to what the number of teams used to be.”
Dennis’ 18’s finished their season at the JVA West Coast Cup. Dennis stated that “It was very well run. My team’s experience in the 18s Finals Match was awesome! My players and parents thought it was an incredible experience for their last tournament of their high school club career!” However, Dennis also expressed he was disappointed that it was during the DI dead period.
It is apparent that there is no “perfect” year-end for every team, every club. The “perfect season” for each team varied. However, some consistencies across the board from our discussions were:
- April is too early
- Coaches felt their kids need to be in the gym training at least through the end of May.
- The stand-alone 18’s qualifiers and championships were less exciting due to lack of spectators and support from other club teams.
Prepvolleyball.com‘s Chris Tobolsk predicts that within 10 years the 18s will not even be an age division. “Moving 18s up has made the division an afterthought. Having 16 clubs participating in 18 Open (at AAUs) this first year seemed to be a sign that the 18’s wanted to be done. I know coaches always found it tough to keep 18s motivated and engaged, but it seems like it’s becoming harder and harder. Girls can see the finish line sooner and it’s a busy time of year for them. It’s clear the 18s are never going back to a later schedule.”
We would love to hear from you what your clubs’ experience was. Please take 5 minutes to take our survey. Results of the survey will be shared in a follow-up article. All individual participant responses will be kept confidential.
About the Author
Jenny Hahn has served as the JVA Executive Director since 2010. She co-founded Milwaukee Sting VBC in 1989 serving as director, head coach and board member through today. She served as Operations Director and then Executive Director of Badger Region Volleyball Association from 1998-2010. Jenny is passionate about junior volleyball and sees the JVA as a vehicle to improve the junior club experience for club directors, coaches and the club member families.