SARASOTA — As a child, Braden River High freshman Courtney McDevitt would spend her weekends traveling around to different gyms to watch her older sister Chelsea’s volleyball tournaments.
Initially, McDevitt found the whole experience to be rather boring. But over time, the 15-year-old became more and more interested in the sport. Soon, McDevitt decided that she wanted to join a club volleyball team, too.
That was seven years ago. Since then, McDevitt has been perfecting her skills while playing the sport all year.
“Club … it’s kind of a year-round thing,” said McDevitt, who plays club volleyball for the Sarasota Volleyball Academy. “You develop a lot of the skills that you use in high school, like leadership and communication and basic volleyball skills like passing, hitting and serving.”
McDevitt’s club volleyball experience helped land her a spot on the Lady Pirates varsity volleyball team this past fall. McDevitt is one of eight players from this year’s district championship team who has played or is currently playing for the Sarasota Volleyball Academy.
The Sarasota Volleyball Academy was founded in 2004 by Braden River volleyball coach Steven Haugh as a way to better prepare players for high school volleyball and beyond.
“What we’re really doing is training kids for their seasons in high school,” Haugh said. “There’s hardly any practice time or training programs (available) throughout the high-school season.
“The kids that play in club and the kids that don’t play club are on a completely different level,” he added.
“Those that play club are naturally going to be better because they play so much.”
This year, the Sarasota Volleyball Academy has roughly 50 girls between the ages of 14 and 18. The five competitive teams practice two to three times a week in preparation for USAV and AAU sanctioned tournaments throughout the state as well as national qualifying events.
“This is the pipeline for the Olympics,” Haugh said. “These are all all-star teams. They’re the best of the best in the state, so they’re always playing at their competitive level.”
And it’s at those national qualifying events that players who wish to play at the next level tend to get the most exposure.
“I wouldn’t have been looked at and recruited to play if I didn’t play club volleyball,” said Becca Toor, a sophomore middle blocker at Winthrop University. “I would definitely say that those looking to go further with the sport and especially those who want to play in college should play club volleyball.”
Suncoast Volleyball Club Director Jeff Horr agreed that playing club volleyball allows players to be better prepared for their middle- and high-school seasons — and the future.
“The biggest benefits of playing club are the repetitions athletes receive, and the intense game experience they receive,” Horr said. “Athletes receive thousands of quality repetitions throughout the club season which translates into better skill and game play. We hope to assist the girls in developing their skills, so they will have success making the team(s) of their choice.”
Horr founded the Suncoast Volleyball Club in 2005 as a way to provide a competitive youth program for children ages 8 to 14. The club began with four teams and 38 players. After enough convincing by some of his former players, Horr decided to add a high-school program.
Since then, the Suncoast Volleyball Club has grown to accommodate more than 150 members, spread out across 15 USAV teams, and is one of the 10-largest USAV clubs in the state.
“The overall goal of Suncoast is to provide a safe, fun, and educationally sound environment for girls ages 8 to 18 to learn the game of volleyball, as well as learn life skills,” Horr said. “We strive to be a competitive volleyball club and our motto is work hard, play hard and have fun.”
For more information on the Sarasota Volleyball Academy, visit www.eteamz.com/sva or contact coach Steven Haugh at [email protected]. For more information on the Suncoast Volleyball Club, visit www.suncoastvolleyball.com or contact coach Jeff Horr at [email protected].
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].