This weekend Greater Louisville’s top high school volleyball talent is heading to the Sunshine State where local club teams will collide with the nation’s best at the 38th AAU Junior Girls’ Volleyball Championships in Orlando.
Drawing more than 1300 teams from 38 states as well as Canada and Puerto Rico, AAU Nationals is one of youth volleyball’s largest and most competitive events. Pool play in the 16-open and 17-open divisions begins Sunday and championship matches, held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, are slated for next Wednesday.
Club volleyball, separate from the fall KHSAA season, runs from November to July and offers players more diverse competition and national exposure to college coaches. The Louisville area, long a hotbed of D-I prospects, is home to two of the country’s top clubs in Kentucky-Indiana Volleyball Association (KIVA) and Mid-America Volleyball Association (MAVA).
A third club, Union Volleyball, is quickly emerging as a power in the Louisville area after doubling in size in the last two years.
Among local teams poised for a strong showing in Orlando is KIVA 17-Red led by setter and University of Louisville commit Katie George.
A constant threat at the net, George’s proclivity for attacking on the second ball holds blockers and creates one-on-one opportunities for outside hitters.
“She’s amazing,” said 17-Red coach Lesley Drury-Prather. “She’s a very vocal leader out there and she knows when to tip and when to set.”
A rising senior at Assumption, George was second-team All-State last year and will be a key returning player as the Rockets defend their state title.
According to George, stamina will be crucial at the four-day AAU Nationals. “(Physically) we’re well-conditioned…but mentally we have to stay focused and not let up,” she said. “When you’re playing game after game you have to stay consistent if you want to win.”
In addition to George 17-Red boasts five other D-I commits: Megan Lipski (Buffalo), Chelsea Bowles (UT-Martin), Lynsey Hazelwood (UT-Martin), Jodie Klein (Murray) and Rachel Engle (WKU).
Also hoping to make noise in the 17-open division is a Union 17-Asics squad that features one of the city’s most promising young stars in setter Remi Bowman.
A recent eighth-grade graduate, Bowman is playing up with teammates three years older and coach Dan Palmer said the transition has been smooth.
“She’s adapted to the speed of the game very well,” said Palmer. “Going from a middle school match to a 17-open match is quite a leap and she’s handled it remarkably well.”
Which high school?
While Bowman has yet to decide where she will attend high school, Palmer has already fielded inquiries from coaches at several top college programs including Penn State, Florida and Tennessee.
On the receiving end of Bowman’s sets are a slew of powerful hitters including Conner Borgmeier (Sr., Sacred Heart), who Palmer said is “a very effective hitter who can terminate against a good double block.”
Emma Roberson (Sr., Manual), an Evansville commit, has also been a versatile and steady offensive producer hitting from left, middle and opposite.
Palmer believes his squad, who knocked off KIVA 17-Red in last month’s KIVA Memorial Day Classic (their only meeting this season), is primed for AAU Nationals. “We’ve gotten steadily better and are playing our best volleyball right now,” said Palmer. “If we come out and play hard every match we’ve got as good a chance as anyone.”
Teams from all three local clubs will compete in the 16-open division.
A loaded KIVA 16-Red features libero and Georgia Tech commit London Ackerman (Jr., Assumption), middles Lauren Tutwiler (So., Assumption) and Taylor Paulson (Jr., Assumption) and outside hitter Maya McClendon (Jr., Manual).
“McClendon hits the ball at an extremely high point,” said coach Melissa Starck-Bean. “People come to games just to watch her jump.”
Joel Braun, coach of MAVA 16-Elite, said he has one of the country’s top liberos in Leah Edgerton (Jr., Mercy). “I would put her up against anybody in the nation as far as a defensive player,” he said. “(She’s) extremely strong, quick and very intelligent on the court.”
Braun added that setter Kenzie Horecny (Jr., Sacred Heart) has “grown tremendously and become an asset this year.”
Coach Tim Lynch’s Union 16-Asics team is 52-23 this season and took first at MAVA Pre-Nationals earlier this month.
“We’ve got high hopes going down there,” said Lynch. “We feel like we’re right there…and expect to be shooting for a championship.”
Contact columnist Chris Cahill at email@example.com.