Nebraska Juniors co-director Gwen Egbert can’t say enough about the AAU national championships in Orlando, Fla.
More than 1,900 teams competed in the event last year. That number has grown to around 3,000 this summer, with squads coming from across the world. The finals in each age group will be streamed live on ESPN3.
“The quality of volleyball is one of the highest anybody would see in the country,” Egbert said. “It’s such a high-level tournament that honestly placing in the top 20 is pretty good, if you have 200 teams in your age group.”
The club’s 15-, 17- and 18-year-old teams have a good shot at reaching the top 16. All three are ranked in top 25.
Once in that final 16, though, they can’t make any mistakes, Egbert said. Any team can win the title.
“It’s just a matter of who is going to execute and execute well,” she said. “Any of those teams has the ability to come away as the national champion.”
Egbert coaches the 181 team, which is loaded with college-bound players. Three will play for Nebraska, with others headed to Notre Dame, Colorado, Boston College and Bradley.
Even with all that talent, it’s not easy to make it to the last day of the national championships. But Egbert is happy with the way her squad has been training.
“It’s a four-day tournament. It depends on how well you play each day,” she said. “If you can get better each day and time it so you’re at your best in the last couple of days, you can do really well.”
Club benefits Harlan players
The Harlan volleyball team will be loaded again this fall.
Six girls from the Iowa high school are getting valuable experience this summer playing for the River City Juniors volleyball club. They’re members of squads that will be playing at the AAU nationals.
A few years ago, a Harlan player decided to join the club and loved the teaching and training. That brought in several other players willing to make the hour-and-a-half drive to Omaha.
Deb Grafentin, the director for River City Juniors, said they’ve set up practice times so the girls can carpool. When one team is practicing, the other girls are doing their homework.
It’s already paid off for sophomore Jess Schaben, who made the all-national team of the Junior Volleyball Association. The 6-foot-2 middle hitter, who plays for the River City Juniors 171, recently committed to Iowa State.
She also was looked at by Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas State, Wichita State, Florida and Washington. UCLA also had corresponded.
“She’s just a very high-level player,” Grafentin said. “She has a phenomenal arm swing. For as big as she is, she’s a great ball handler.”
Harlan freshman Taylor Frederick, a 6-1 middle hitter, has also been drawing lots of interest.
Grafentin, who coaches the under-17 team, said the squad, which has played together for a few years, has a good chance at nationals.
They earned third place in the Sports Performance National Junior Classic in Chicago and in the JVA Midwest Challenge in Des Moines and have a 32-16 record. They’re ranked 16th.
“They gel well together, they understand their role and they understand what they need to do to contribute,” she said.
Top setters on Premier team
Premier 17 Gold coach Joe Wessel says Nikki Ohlinger and Paige Madsen of Millard North will be two of the best senior setters in the state this fall.
The Gold run a 6-2 offense with Ohlinger playing all around and Madsen in the back row.
Ohlinger is the team’s biggest all-around threat. She’s committed to play for Midland University.
“She runs the game as the quarterback when she’s setting, and she’s also a great hitter for us on the right side,” Wessel said. “They distribute the ball well, and our defense is pretty good, too.”
The 17 Gold is one of 11 teams that Premier will be sending to the USA junior national championships next weekend in Dallas, a record number for the club and the Great Plains Region.
The two setters have done a good job of distributing the ball and getting everyone involved for the Gold, who went 38-16 and won three tournaments. They finished in the top 20 at a national qualifier in Denver and in the top 10 at a similar event in Indianapolis.
The Gold are well-rounded at every position and have great team chemistry, Wessel said. They also all have good volleyball IQs.
“The girls, on and off the court, are such a great fit together,” Wessel said. “They get along and work well together.”
Madsen is getting looks from a few colleges, as is libero Bree Ackermann. Creighton and UNO are among the schools that have been in contact with Ackermann, a senior from Lincoln Pius X.
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