Competition for top players has never been more fierce between colleges, and that race for talent has filtered to the club level.
The rising stakes in collegiate volleyball also ratchets up competition among clubs.
Whereas one club may have distinguished itself in a region, more and more are cropping up — and players aren’t shy about making the switch. Just as college coaches aggressively recruit elite players, many club coaches and administrators are also constantly working to upgrade their teams.
But buyer beware.
Steve Suttich of Oregon Juniors Volleyball Academy hasn’t dealt with that problem much, but he’s taken the high road when the player wants to return.
“Believe me, I have a tough time accepting those kids back,” the club director says. “My deep down is, ‘If we weren’t good enough for you before, why are we good enough now?’ ”
Steve Suttich, left, is the club director of the Oregon Juniors Volleyball Academy.
It’s difficult not to think just about the next season, but Suttich says that’s dangerous. Suttich, who won national titles as a player at UCLA, doesn’t make promises from season to season about which team a player will make.
“Whoever shows up will compete. There’s no agenda, no guarantees,” Suttich says. “If you don’t want to compete, I’m not sure you’re good for our program.”
Playing time and team placement is dependent on performance at OJVA practices.
Suttich is proud of OJVA’s track record in developing well-rounded players who thrive in college.
Suttich, though, admits that’s difficult now that college coaches are recruiting players as early as the eighth or ninth grade.
“That is something that is I’m adamantly against, just because kids change,” he says. “How good someone is today is not a true evaluation of how good they’ll be two years from now or three years from now.”
Kaylee McClure of Harrison High School in Kennesaw, Georgia, says the pressure on young athletes is very real. She believes colleges should not be allowed to offer players an athletic scholarship until junior year.
“Simply because you never know when someone will get hurt, plateau in their talent, or simply change their mind about a school,” McClure says. “Too many players are committing their freshman and sophomore years, and it is ridiculous.”
McClure adds that such a big decision — committing to a college — is overwhelming for anyone, let alone a freshman or even sophomore. For her part, McClure started to receive strong interest in her sophomore year as a standout with the S3 Volleyball Club. After receiving eight offers, McClure picked the University of Alabama Birmingham, where she’ll play beach volleyball.
Jeff Smith of 692 Beach in San Diego says many players focus on being on the best team and in the best program they can be — at all times.
“It’s about being on that ‘one team,’ ” Smith says. “It’s nuts.”
Seng Chiu of Dulles Volleyball says the most important consideration for an athlete considering a switch is who will coach them.
The quality can vary dramatically at clubs, ranging from the top coach — with certifications and experiences — to a volunteer parent coach.
“If I go to a club, they might have four different coaches for an age group,” says Chiu, who has served as an assistant coach at William & Mary, George Mason University and the University of Nevada-Reno, among others. “Some clubs have good coach at the top. But the bottom two teams might have volunteer parents who coach a team.”
Suttich emphasizes the quality of the coaches in his program. Most have at least played in college and several have international and professional playing and coaching experience. The other OJVA academy director, Marty Mozzochi, is in the San Francisco State University Hall of Fame as a player and the Portland State University Hall of Fame as a coach.
If you’re a player or a player’s parent, it’s important to have a clear and accurate picture of where that athlete fits on the talent spectrum.
“If you’re a recreational kid, don’t try out for the top teams,” Chiu says. “See what level you are, and be realistic about that. Make sure you can make the team there.”
And honesty goes both ways.
If another club is wooing a player, the young athlete needs to consider why.
“How many other people [are they] talking to?” Suttich says. “They might be recruiting two or three other people better than you.”
Chiu says the players most likely to take the mercenary mindset are not the top players on a team, but the fringe ones at the bottom.
And those players who barely make the team may be struggling to earn playing time.
That latter concern, however, isn’t an issue at Dulles Volleyball. Once you make one of their teams, you will play, splitting playing time with someone else at that position.
“If you’re a setter, and I’m a setter, you play first set, I play the second set,” Chiu says. “Equal playing time.”