Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Dream Come True: My Tryout for Team USA

by Jackie Napper, UK defensive specialist

Hey everybody! I'm gonna start off with introducing myself since I'm new to this whole blog thing. First thing first, my name is Jackie Napper and I'm a sophomore at the University of Kentucky. I was lucky enough to get chosen to intern this spring with AVCA! In addition to my internship at the AVCA on Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays, I’m also busy juggling classes, practices, morning workouts, and attempting to fit a little "me" time in every now and then. 

This past weekend was a little different than most weekends for me and it all started with my alarm ringing at 4:30 on Friday (and yes that is 4:30 AM). This alarm wasn't for our typical 6 AM Tuesday/ Thursday agility training, or our Monday, Wednesday, Friday 8 am weight lifting, but for something completely different, something that I had only really dreamed of doing. That was to catch my flight to Colorado Springs to try out for the USA National Team. Before leaving for the tryout I didn’t really know what to expect. All I knew was that a record 247 athletes were signed up to participate in the tryouts, made up of 56 other liberos (my position), 60 outside hitters, 57 middle blockers, 49 setters, and 25 opposites.

Four other teammates and I (keep in mind we are ALL of course wearing blue) checked in to our flight and headed to our terminal only to see in front of us a group of four girls wearing red (yes the red was Louisville, booooo! Haha), but despite the in-state rivalry on the court, off the court we all get along and we boarded our flight all with the same destination in mind… Dallas, Texas then Colorado Springs, Colorado!

(From left to write) Whitney Billings, Steph Klefot, me, and Zan Morgan all participated in the tryouts along with Morgan Bergren (not pictured).

Our flight left Louisville at 6:10, stopping in Texas, and then arriving in Colorado around 11:30 their time (1:30 Lexington time). I can’t tell y’all how many times we were stopped in the airport because of people asking us questions like what we were doing here, and the MOST COMMON question we hear EVERYWHERE we go, “Are you all the basketball team???” because most of the girls are tall… Well, of course with an exception of Steph and me, as you can tell from the picture above we lack a little in the area of height! 
Anyway, with jet lag fully in effect, we picked up our luggage, found our bus driver holding the “USA team tryout” sign and headed to this bus waiting outside for us.

Hopefully you can tell from the picture how cold it was but I have to admit, our bus was awesome!
 As soon as I saw this bus I got butterflies in my stomach, but it was weird because it wasn’t exactly the nervous butterflies, but excitement because the reality of the experience I was lucky enough to take part in was finally setting in!

We finally got to the training center around 12:00 PM to check in, get our ID cards made, pick up our tryout shirts, take our things to our rooms, and find time to eat ALL before our first tryout session began…. AT 2PM!

Here's some pictures of the entrance to the facility, the courts, and our tryout shirts.. with of course my UK spandex ;)
Somehow we managed to do this all in time, and made it to the gym at about 1:30 to start warming up.

After two hours of competing with some of the top collegiate volleyball players in the country, I was truly exhausted by the end of the day (and it was only the first day!)  We had a meeting for the staff to introduce themselves, and then grabbed dinner in the training café. I have to tell y’all the food was DELICIOUS and on top of that we were allowed to go in there anytime we wanted (YES, I said that…unlimited food), and as many times we wanted (yes, again… unlimited food), as long as we had our ID scan cards. After dinner we went back to our room to try to catch up on some sleep until our alarms rang again for our first session at 8 AM Saturday morning.
The first session on Saturday was from 8:00 to 9:30 AM, and they broke us up into our specific position group to work on specific skills like how they train their Olympic athletes. Since so many athletes were from so many different teams, a lot of the girls had many different ways of doing things, but we had to work to change our habits and do exactly what it is that they wanted us to do.
After the first session we had a little free time to explore the beautiful training site! When I say beautiful, I mean b-e-a-UTIFUL. *Jim Carrey voice*

Take a look at the first picture I took walking down the pathway to the USA gift store and the second was of the mountains behind the training center.
At 11:30 we went to our physical training session which was for them to record certain aspects of our physical training skills such as vertical jump, approach jump, shuttle runs, and our speed when we take off. Being a libero, they weren’t really too concerned with how high I jumped, so we just had to get our height measure, do the runs, testing our speed, and a standing block jump.

All that heavy weight lifting in the training room paid off lol
In between the physical training session and our next session, which began at 5:45 pm, we had time to goof around a little bit and go back to the café for some lunch (yes more food). Walking around the site we found some things we thought were funny and being as goofy as we are, we took these pictures.
... Yo Kentucky, we have a BOBSLED team!!

We then went on to our last session, where we played for over two hours. The competition level was at its highest because the nerves that many of the players had were now gone. It was this session that would decide what group we would be placed in for the final morning session on Sunday, either the red, white, or blue group. Here's a few pictures of Whitney, Zan, and I playing during this last session on Saturday!
We look like some ballers, eh?!
After the tryout we were told we would hear that night what group we were in, so everyone anxiously awaited by their phone waiting for the email with our numbers and the morning schedule attached.  I found out I was in the red group that was going to go on Sunday morning at 7:30 AM. So lights were out, and I went to bed knowing Sunday morning was my last opportunity to make an impression on these coaches and the players around me.
Sunday mornings alarm came way too early, but it was my last opportunity to chase after my dreams. The final day was full of competition and we were assigned to teams to play a round robin tournament. Coincidentally, both Louisville and Purdue's liberos were on my team (two big rivals of KY), but I enjoyed playing with them and getting to know them. My team went on to win two of our three games, and that wrapped up the weekend tryout for the USA National Team.
This experience was once in a lifetime, but the preparation began long before the day we left. We began preparing days, even weeks, before the tryout. Making it essential to properly fuel my body with the proper nutrients, getting enough sleep, and water, water, did I mention water? Because of the change in altitude dehydration can be a huge issue in the Springs, so for the week leading up to the tryout anytime you saw me I had a water bottle in hand.
 Even though the schedule was very hectic, and I found myself rushing to get homework done in between the sessions and studying for tests (yes, we are STUDENT- athletes and we do our homework), I would do it all over again. Playing for Team USA or playing overseas is a dream of mine that I hope to pursue after college. I hope with this blog you were able to get a little insider on the experience of a USA National Team tryout.
Just for a little motivation thought to think about, I'm gonna wrap up my experience with this quote:

So true!!! Work for your dreams!

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Look at the Weekend: Feb. 22-24

Vinnie Lopes | Vinnie Lopes is the editor of Off the Block, a website that focuses on Division I-II NCAA men’s volleyball, and has covered college men’s volleyball since 2007.  He will be blogging for us all season highlighting the top five matches to follow for that weekend. For continued updates and analysis of the men's game, visit his website at and follow him on Twitter @offtheblock11.

No. 2 BYU and No. 5 Stanford have their first meeting since the four-game overtime match in the MPSF Tournament last season highlights the matches this weekend. In addition, Penn State after losing last week looks to start a new conference streak as it plays host to George Mason in a rematch of last year's EIVA championship match.

Check out the top-five men’s volleyball matches from around the nation to follow this weekend. Also for more on these matches and this weekend's results visit Off the Block at

1. No. 2 BYU (9-3, 8-2 MPSF) vs. No. 5 Stanford (9-5, 6-5 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Saturday in Provo, Utah
What to know: BYU will play Stanford for the first time since losing one of the lengthy overtime games in MPSF Tournament history last year that ended the Cougars season and chances of a Final Four berth. Stanford in the 2012 MPSF Tournament semifinals defeated BYU in four games, including a 35-33 overtime victory in the fourth game. BYU enters this match leading the nation with a .326 attack percentage. In addition, outside attacker Taylor Sander is in the nation's top 10 with a 3.94 kills per game average and had a match-high 23 kills in BYU's victory against USC last week. Stanford continues its four-match road trip after losing in three games against No. 3 Long Beach State to drop to fifth place in the MPSF. Stanford is also on an eight-match winning streak against BYU dating back to 2010.

2. No. 4 Pepperdine (8-4, 8-4 MPSF) def. No. 7 UCLA (10-8, 6-6 MPSF)
Match vitals: 5 p.m. Saturday in Malibu, Calif.
What to know: UCLA has chance to do something it hasn't achieved since the second week of the season -- win back-to-back matches. However, to accomplish that feat UCLA will have to do something no team has done this season and beat Pepperdine on its home floor. The Waves are 6-0 at Firestone Fieldhouse, including winning the first three matches of its season-long four-match homestand. In addition, Pepperdine setter Matt West (right) is also second in the nation with an 11.26 assists per game. UCLA enters this match after sweeping its cross-town rival USC on Monday. 

3. No. 3 Long Beach State (11-4, 9-3 MPSF) vs. No. 8 Cal State Northridge (7-5, 5-5 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in Northridge, Calif.
What to know: Long Beach State can match its longest winning streak in the last four years if it defeat Cal State Northridge on the road. The 49ers are on a three-match winning streak and have won six of their last seven matches, including a sweep against then-No. 3 Stanford last week. Outside attacker Taylor Crabb in that victory finished with 15 kills and has 49 combined during the team's winning streak. Cal State Northridge's match against Long Beach State will conclude the team's five-match homestand. The Matadors are 3-1 during their homestand and have already knocked off a top-five nationally ranked team.

4. No. 14 Lewis (9-5, 5-0 MIVA) vs. Ball State (8-3, 2-3 MIVA)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in Romeoville, Ill.

Photo by Steve Woltmann
What to know: Two of the top blocking teams in the nation will face each other as Ball State and Lewis renew their conference rivalry. The Cardinals lead the nation with a 3.22 blocks per game average -- one of two teams averaging more than 3.00 blocks per game. In addition, Ball State middle attacker Kevin Owens is first in the nation averaging 1.51 blocks per game, while middle attacker Matt Leske is third with a 1.40 blocks per game average. Lewis is second in the MIVA and fifth in the nation averaging 2.63 blocks per game. The Flyers also are on an eight-match winning streak and have yet to lose a match at home this season.

5. Penn State (10-3, 4-1 EIVA) vs. George Mason (5-5, 3-0 EIVA)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in University Park, Pa.
What to know: The Nittany Lions will try bounce back from its first conference loss in five years by playing George Mason in a rematch of the 2012 EIVA championship match. Penn State last weekend lost in three games to Harvard to snap its NCAA-record 61-match conference winning streak dating back to 2008. The loss also dropped Penn State out of first place in the EIVA and a half-match behind George Mason in the EIVA standings. George Mason remains the only undefeated left in EIVA play. In addition, Patriots middle attacker Piotr Dabrowski leads the EIVA and is fourth in the nation averaging 1.39 blocks per game.

Friday, February 15, 2013

A Look at the Weekend: Feb. 15 - 17

Vinnie Lopes | Vinnie Lopes is the editor of Off the Block, a website that focuses on Division I-II NCAA men’s volleyball, and has covered college men’s volleyball since 2007.  He will be blogging for us all season highlighting the top five matches to follow for that weekend. For continued updates and analysis of the men's game, visit his website at and follow him on Twitter @offtheblock11.

It's been a chaotic first third to the college men's volleyball season but this weekend could provide some clarity -- or just add even more chaos.

No. 1 BYU makes its first road appearance this season as it plays No. 5 Pepperdine in the marquee match of the weekend. In addition, Harvard eyes an upset against No. 9 Penn State in EIVA play.

Check out the top-five men’s volleyball matches from around the nation to follow this weekend. Also for more on these matches and this weekend's results visit Off the Block at

1. No. 1 BYU (8-2, 7-1 MPSF) vs. No. 5 Pepperdine (6-4, 6-4 MPSF) 
Match vitals: 7 p.m. in Malibu, Calif.
What to know: One-third of the way into the season and BYU will finally play its first road match as it travels to Pepperdine in a match-up between two top-five nationally ranked teams. BYU is on a three-match winning streak, including a sweep against No. 6 UCLA last weekend. In addition, BYU All-American outside attacker Taylor Sander (left) is among the conference leaders with a 3.97 kills per game. The junior in his career also has 67 combined kills in four matches against the Waves. Pepperdine enters this match after defeating Cal Baptist on Wednesday and has won three of its last four matches. Outside attacker Maurice Torres during this four-match stretch leads the Waves with 71 combined kills. Torres is also in third in the MPSF averaging 4.14 kills per game.

2. No. 3 Stanford (8-4, 5-4 MPSF) vs. No. 8 Cal State Northridge (6-4, 4-4) 
Match vitals: 7 p.m. in Northridge, Calif.
What to know: Stanford will have a freshman starting at setter against Cal State Northridge, but which freshman setter remains uncertain. Joe Ctvrtlik in his first college start last week had 33 assists as Stanford swept UC Santa Barbara to snap a two-match losing streak.
Ctvrtlik in the victory replaced freshman setter James Shaw, who in 11 matches had a 10.21 assists per game average. Cal State Northridge enters this conference match after upsetting Pepperdine last week and with a victory tonight can have a winning conference record for the first time this season. Matadors middle attacker Drew Staker is also in the MPSF's top-10 with a .509 attack percentage and a 1.23 blocks per game average.

3. No. 9 Penn State (9-2, 3-0 EIVA) vs. Harvard (5-2, 1-1 EIVA) 
Match vitals: 7 p.m. in Cambridge, Mass.
What to know: Penn State will put its historic conference winning streak on the line this weekend against a team that has come close to snapping that streak the last two times they played each other. Penn State and its 61-match EIVA winning streak dating back to 2008 will travel to Harvard to open a two-match conference weekend road trip.
Despite Penn State having never lost to Harvard, the Crimson pushed the Nittany Lions to five games in their last two meetings. This conference match will also feature two of the best middle attackers in the conference. Harvard middle attacker Caleb Zimmick is second in the EIVA with a 1.27 blocks per game average, while Penn State middle attacker Aaron Russell is in the conference's top 10 averaging 2.94 kills per game.

Hawai'i Athletics
4. No. 6 UCLA (8-7, 4-5 MPSF) vs. No. 13 Hawai'i (4-7, 3-5 MPSF) 
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday in Los Angeles
What to know: After upsetting a top-five nationally ranked team in three of its last four matches, Hawai'i will now attempt to beat another nationally ranked team as it opens a two-match series against UCLA. Hawai'i coming off of a bye week will play four matches in a five-day stretch starting with the UCLA series. UCLA opens this series having lost three of its last four matches, including a three-game road loss to BYU last week. This will be the second meeting between UCLA and Hawai'i this season. Outside attacker JP Marks (above) had a match-high 18 kills to help the Warriors upset the Bruins in five games at the Outrigger Invitational in January.

5. No. 14 Lewis (8-5, 4-0 MIVA) vs. Loyola (9-5, 2-0 MIVA) 
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Saturday in Chicago
What to know: The only returning AVCA All-American outside attackers from the MIVA last season will go up against each other as Loyola and Lewis renew their in-state rivalry. Loyola All-American outside attacker Joseph Smalzer is second in the conference with a 3.74 kills per game average. In addition, Lewis All-American outside attacker Jay Petty after being named the preseason favorite to win the MIVA Player of the Year is in the conference's top 15 averaging 2.76 kills per game. Both Lewis and Loyola also enter this rivalry match undefeated in conference and with some of the longest winning streaks in the nation.
The Flyers are on a seven-match winning streak, including three sweeps during this streak. The Ramblers are on a five-match winning streak and opened its conference season last weekend with sweeps against Quincy and Lindenwood.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Athlete Comparison and its Dangers

by David Portney, AVCA Media Relations & Awards Support Specialist

So I get home late last night and flip on ESPN as I usually do, and the top story was centered around LeBron James being compared to Michael Jordan.

I found this interesting because LeBron's been great for so long now, why didn't this debate happen immediately after winning the NBA Championship last June?  I was confused.

Comparing the greatest players in every sport didn't even start until the sports talk radio phenomenon took this country by storm about 20 years ago, with basketball being the worst offender.  Do you ever remember anyone having this debate on who the "greatest of all time" was pre-Michael Jordan?  Maybe you did privately with a couple of friends, but it certainly didn't hit the mainstream.

It wasn't until he retired for the third time that a handful of players started to hear the "next MJ" talk:  Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, Kobe Bryant and now...LeBron James.  At first I just thought this was a fun topic used by talking heads to fill air time, and that the players themselves never really thought about it, or even cared for that matter.

Then I saw this tweet:


Maybe LeBron is more sensitive to how others perceive him thanks to "The Decision" a couple of years ago, but that was about off-the-court issues.  If he is that talented and dominant like he is, why care at all or even go out of your way to mention it on Twitter?

Which begs the question:  Why do players and coaches get caught in the cross-fire when it comes to athlete comparison?  And why would they care?

Alaina Bergsma
Volleyball is also a product of this debate.  Athletic Directors across the country are looking for "the next" Mike Hebert and head coaches are looking for "the next" Alaina Bergsma.  Well, unless Hebert and Bergsma have an identical clone running around, that is literally impossible.  All too often administrators and coaches try to implement what a certain coach or player did and hope the current roster will duplicate the success.  Nothing positive ever comes from expecting someone to be exactly like someone else, regardless if it's as a player on a volleyball team or a media relations specialist at the AVCA.

You might ask yourself, "What's the harm in expecting the same greatness as a previous player?"  Well, prior to last night I might have agreed with you, but if the top athlete and best basketball player in the world has it in his head, there's a good chance it'll get in your player's head.  Particularly at the amateur level, many of these athletes are not equipped to handle such pressure.

They will spend more time trying to become that other person instead of enhancing what they already are.  That is my greatest fear now with LeBron.  We may never find out how great he could be if he tries to be the best Michael Jordan.  Yes, I know he said he's "Not MJ," but he's proven he hears the debate...and cares.

So keep that in mind as you look at your current roster, and leave the comparisons to the ones that don't impact what happens between the lines.



Friday, February 8, 2013

A Look at the Weekend: Feb. 8-10

Vinnie Lopes | Vinnie Lopes is the editor of Off the Block, a website that focuses on Division I-II NCAA men’s volleyball, and has covered college men’s volleyball since 2007.  He will be blogging for us all season highlighting the top five matches to follow for that weekend. For continued updates and analysis of the men's game, visit his website at and follow him on Twitter @offtheblock11.

Multiple streaks will be on the line and rivalries will be renewed this weekend in college men's volleyball.

No. 1 BYU and No. 6 UCLA, in their first meeting since the controversial match last season highlights weekend's matches. In addition, No. 7 Penn State and No. 9 Ohio State will renew their rivalry with both teams looking to add another signature non-conference victory to their resume.

Check out the top-five men’s volleyball matches from around the nation to follow this weekend. Also for more on these matches and this weekend's results visit Off the Block at

1. No. 1 BYU (7-2, 6-1 MPSF) vs. No. 6 UCLA (8-6, 4-4 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Saturday in Provo, Utah

What to know: BYU and UCLA will play each other for the first time since the servegate controversy. In a late season conference match last season, the Cougars initially defeated the Bruins in a fifth-game overtime on a match-winning ace that appeared to land just inside the back line. However after 15 minutes of arguing from UCLA players and coaches, the officials opted to replay the point, and UCLA eventually won the fifth-game overtime. The controversial play became an instant topic on social media with the Twitter hashtag #servegate being created to describe the play, and at one point UCLA coach Al Scates was a trending Twitter topic in Provo, Utah.

Here is that final point:

The controversy became even more infamous the following day when the conference office overturned the overturned call and ordered that the match be replayed starting at 15-15 in the fifth game. BYU at the reset got back-to-back points to win the match, but tensions between the two teams remained at a near all-time high. In addition, BYU coach Chris McGown days after the match called UCLA and then-head coach Al Scates' actions unethical.

Both teams have new starting lineups since that match, but there may still be some leftover tension from that match last season in this servegate sequel.

2. No. 1 UC Irvine (8-3, 5-3 MPSF) vs. No. 4 Stanford (7-3, 4-3 MPSF) 
Match vitals: 6:30 p.m. Friday in Palo Alto, Calif.
What to know: One of the top offensive teams in nation will go up against the top defensive team in the MPSF as Stanford plays host to UC Irvine. Stanford leads the conference with a .219 opponent attack percentage, while UC Irvine is third in the MPSF with a .316 attack percentage. The Anteaters also enter with a conference-best four-match winning streak, including road victories at UCLA and UC Santa Barbara last week. In addition, outside attacker Kevin Tillie (left) leads UC Irvine with a combined 73 kills during this winning streak. Stanford last weekend split a two-match road series against Hawai'i, but the Cardinals are undefeated at home this season.

3. No. 7 Penn State (8-1, 2-0 EIVA) vs. No. 9 Ohio State (7-2, 2-0 MIVA)
Match vitals: 8 p.m. Saturday in University Park, Pa.
What to know: The two men's volleyball Big Ten brothers will clash as Penn State and Ohio State renew their non-conference rivalry. The Nittany Lions are on the nation's longest active winning streak with eight consecutive victories. Setter Taylor Hammond (right) also leads the EIVA with a 10.53 assists per game average, and the Nittany Lions hit .379 against Mount Olive in its most recent match -- Penn State's second highest attack percentage this season. Ohio State is on a five-match winning streak of their own, including a four-game victory against George Mason on Saturday. This will be the second meeting between the two teams this year. Middle attacker Aaron Russell had a match-high 13 kills to help Penn State sweep Ohio State at the Outrigger Invitational in January.

4. No. 3 Long Beach State (8-4, 6-3 MPSF) vs. No. 8 USC (2-4, 2-4 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in Long Beach. Calif.
What to know: It's still too early in the season to call a match a must-win, but it's getting closer to that point for USC with the Trojans traveling to play Long Beach State. USC is on a three-match losing streak after losing to Cal State Northridge in four games on Wednesday. The Trojans have not had a four-match losing streak since 2006 -- one year before coach Bill Ferguson took over the program.
Long Beach State lost in three games to Pepperdine on Tuesday but has won six of its last eight matches. Outside attacker Dalton Ammerman (left) was also named the AVCA National Player of the Week after having a career-high 21 kills in an upset victory against No. 1 BYU last week.

5. Ball State (7-0, 2-0 MIVA) vs. Grand Canyon (4-5, 0-2 MIVA) 
Match vitals: Noon Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday in Muncie, Ind.
What to know: Ball State will try to remain the only undefeated team left in the nation as it opens a two-match conference series against Grand Canyon. Despite being the undefeated, Ball State has yet to receive any votes in the national coaches poll largely because of its strength of schedule. In addition, Ball State coach and AVCA coaches poll voter Joel Walton (left) said to The Ball State Daily News earlier this week that he didn't even vote for his own team in this week's poll because it doesn't have a marquee victory. Grand Canyon opened conference play last weekend with two home losses to the defending-MIVA champions Lewis, including blowing a two-game lead in the series finale. This will also be the first meeting between the two teams since Ball State on the road defeated Grand Canyon in the MIVA Tournament quarterfinals last season.