30th Annual AAU Girls’ Junior
National Volleyball Championships
A record 316 teams converged on Disney’s Wide World of
Sports in Orlando, Fla. to enjoy not only top-notch volleyball
competition, but the spectacular sights of the area as well.
By Bill Fay
When Christopher Colon replays the video he shot at the 30th
Annual AAU Junior National Volleyball Championships, he'll see
a lot of the same sights he sees at every volleyball tournament—and
a few he never sees.
He'll see his team of 17-and-under girls from Bayamon, Puerto
Rico bump, set and spike volleyballs all over the Milk House
at Disney's Wide World of Sports in one frame and then pose
like princesses in front of Cinderella's Castle at the Magic
Kingdom in the next.
As the video rolls, Colon will see his girls diving, hustling
and slamming their way to a third-place finish in their division
in the morning session and then screaming, shrieking and gasping
after going on one of the thrill rides at Universal Studios
"That is why we come to this tournament,'' Colon said
proudly. "You can get great competition and you can have
great fun. It’s a perfect match for my players and their
Colon has been bringing teams to the AAU Junior Nationals at
Disney's Wide World of Sports the last four years, and like
so many other coaches, is spreading the news that it's one stop
that should be made on the summer circuit. In fact, there were
a total of 26 teams from Puerto Rico in the tournament that
ran in mid-June.
Colon took 10 players and 20 of their relatives in his traveling
party to Orlando. That 30-person mixed contingent is a perfect
snapshot of what this event is all about—high-level competition
for players, combined with exciting vacation attractions for
"We think it is the perfect place to end the volleyball
season,'' said Ron Kordes, director of the Kentucky Indiana
Volleyball Academy (KIVA) club out of Louisville, Ky. that dominated
the field by winning five of the seven age divisions and placing
second in the other two.
Kordes has 130 players in his club and says every one of them
signed up for the tournament. Like Colon's team from Puerto
Rico, most of the KIVA girls made the trip with members of their
"It is so exciting being in an environment like this,''
said Michelle O'Bryan, a member of KIVA's 15-and-under team
that won a national title. "We can play volleyball in Louisville,
but we don't have anything around us like the stuff they have
in Orlando. It is so much fun.''
Kordes says the setting makes the event.
"We probably have 400 people or so down here and we're
all staying in the same hotel so the parents really get a chance
to hang out and get to know each other,'' Kordes said. "Plus,
the competition is great and gets better every year. The facility
is absolutely first class.
"But the best part of the whole thing is you can plan
for it. You don't have to qualify. You just sign up and you're
in so the parents of our girls know when we meet in October
or whenever, they can put this date on their calendar for the
next summer and be sure we're going.''
That is both the blessing and the curse of the AAU Junior Nationals.
Hosting an "all-comers'' event sometimes dilutes the quality
of the field and discourages some of the more competitive clubs
Still, there were a record 316 teams in this year's event that
starts with the 12-and-under Division and goes up through the
18-and-under Open Division.
Florida, as it has since the event moved to Disney in 1997,
had the most teams entered with 56. However, teams came from
as far away as Oregon, Wyoming, Minnesota and Puerto Rico with
the prospects of playing 10-12 games over four days.
"We're not going to find this kind of competition where
we come from,'' said Toni Hladky, coach of the 17-and-under
team from Gillette, Wyo. "Our team is mostly girls from
the same high school and I'm sure we're going to see the results
from this when we start our season next school year.''
The teams played round-robin style the first three days before
splitting up into brackets based on performance for the final
day. There were eight brackets in each age group, including
a championship bracket for the top teams at that level.
"This has become just a great event for club teams and
their families to go to,'' said Rick Butler, who along with
his wife Cheryl runs the Sports Performance Club out of West
Chicago, Ill. "It's about volleyball and competition, but
it's not all about what is happening at the gym. You've got
all these great theme parks in the area so families don't have
to sit around and just watch volleyball for four days. We think
it's a great experience and that's why we keep coming back.''
Sports Performance has been involved in the event since 1982
and has the most impressive track record of any team participating.
They have played in the finals in the Open Division 19 times
and won 17 titles, though they lost in this year's championship
match to KIVA.
"I think we are up to 300 kids from our program that have
gone on to get college scholarships so yes, we do like the competition,''
"And obviously, so do they,'' he added, pointing at a
row of college coaches seated nearby for the semifinals competition
in the Open Division.
That group included Florida coach Mary Wise, whose team reached
the semifinals of last year's NCAA Women’s National Championship,
Penn State's Russ Rose, whose team lost in the second round
of the NCAA tournament and Chris Catanach, head coach at the
University of Tampa, which placed third in Division II.
Wise spent three days at the tournament, arriving for the first
game at 9 a.m. each morning and staying until the 7 p.m. game
that ended each day's session. She even admits to watching some
of the 12-and-under games because, "it's never too early
to spot the talent.''
Wise calls this one of the most important events on her schedule
because of the opportunity to evaluate so many players.
"If I go watch a high school team, I see two teams and
use one of the 80 recruiting days the NCAA allows us,'' she
said. "Here, I can watch 100 teams if I want and see how
the girls stand up to four tough days of competition.''
Wise is one who doesn't see anything wrong with the AAU Junior
Nationals being an "all-comers'' event.
"I love the fact that this event keeps growing and they
keep adding more teams from all over the country,'' she said.
"I'm especially happy to see so many teams from Puerto
Rico. They have great club teams there and we normally don't
get a chance to see them.
"I'm always looking for the next Aury Cruz,'' she added,
referring to the two-time All-American for Florida who is from
Toa Baja, Puerto Rico.
Catanach agreed with Wise that more is better for this event.
"The quality of players has jumped leaps and bounds as
this event keeps growing,'' Catanach said. "Mary (Wise)
might only see two or three players in these games that are
good enough for her program, but I'm seeing eight to 10.
"There's a lot of people here that I know can help us
right now, so I'm loving the way this thing keeps growing.'