University of Michigan assistant volleyball coach Erin Virtue has been involved with USA Volleyball for the past eight years and this year, Virtue was an assistant coach for the US Junior National Team. The squad played three matches at the U-20 NORCECA Continental Championship in Guatemala. Virtue talks about winning the title in this blog.
Over the last eight years, I have been blessed with the wonderful opportunity to work with the USA Volleyball High Performance (HP) Program. I have worked with almost every age group, ranging from seventh through 12th graders; mostly during the summers for 1-2 weeks. Working with highly competitive and experienced coaches throughout the young stages of my coaching career has absolutely shaped who I am as a coach today. In a very odd way (to me, anyway), I am starting to become one of the more experienced USAV HP coaches in the pipeline, because I was lucky to start my HP coaching career right after finishing my playing career with the USA National Team in 2006.
This summer, I was given the great honor to work with the 2014 USA Volleyball Junior National Team as an assistant coach. Our athletes went through two tryouts before our final 12 were selected. Once the team was selected, we had less than a week to prepare them for the U-20 NORCECA Continental Championship in Guatemala City, Guatemala. The goal of our staff for this tournament was to place in the top two, in order to qualify for the U-20 World Championship, to be held in 2015 in Turkey.
The tournament began with a very nice Opening Ceremonies (all in Spanish, of course) and with our first match vs St. Luica. This would be the first time in USA Volleyball (at any level) would play the very small island of St. Lucia. While they were much smaller and less skilled than us, we respected their team just as much as any other team and they still saw our best match! It was a great way to begin the tournament, as our team (though very skilled and very BIG) was still young and nervous. We beat St. Luica in less than 45 minutes and celebrated our first win as a team.
Our second match would be an important Border Battle match against Mexico. The importance of the match was in the point spread. The top two teams in the tournament (according to point spread) would receive a "bye" in the quarterfinals. So it was important for our team to not only beat Mexico, but beat them by A LOT. We started off great, winning the first set 25-5; but the talented Mexico team bounced back and though we still won the second and third sets, Mexico gave a great match. With the defeat of Mexico, we secured the bye in the quarters and more importantly a "rest day."
For our rest day, our team had a light practice and began to prepare for the Dominican Republic; who we would likely face in the semifinals. The Dominican Republic has given USA Volleyball quite a headache this season, beating both our Senior National and our Youth National Team in the last couple of months. We knew this Dominican team well after scouting prep and plenty of video.
Going into the semifinal match, I could sense the nerves from not only our girls, but from our staff as well. We had expected to meet the very talented Dominican team in the finals, where both teams would qualify for Worlds, instead, one of us would NOT qualify. On paper, yes, we were the better team, but as (head softball coach) Hutch always says ... "The game doesn't know rank or status." Our match vs. Dominican was a battle. The scores may not reflect the tight match, but it was definitely emotional. USA beat Dominican Republic, 3-0. And with that win ... WE QUALIFIED FOR WORLDS!! We had met one of our goals and stamped our ticket to the 2015 World Championships in Turkey! But there was more to be done ...
We met Cuba in the championship match. Cuba hadn't entered a tournament at this level in a few years, so they were a team that we didn't know as much about. They had one player on their team who would likely tear it up in Big Ten play as a 15-year-old ... she was VERY good. But, we had depth, balance, ball control, great setting, and the best block in the tournament. We were able to control Cuba's best player and thus control the emotion of the match. I was extremely proud of how our athletes handled the "pressure" of a big match like that. They played with so much energy, focus and calmness all wrapped into one. USA won the GOLD medal beating Cuba in three straight sets. I'll never forget the moment that we stood there with gold around our necks as we all sung the Star Spangled Banner -- what a great moment!!
I'd like to formally thank Mark Rosen, Bitsy Ritt and Dave Brandon for allowing me the opportunity to spend this time working with USA Volleyball ... it will definitely be an experience I won't soon forget. And as always, Go Blue!
For more information, player blogs and pictures of the 2014 Women's Junior National Team, visit: wjnt.tumblr.com.
Contact: Kent Reichert
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