The Road to Nationals
By Maya Waid
Growing up, every athlete aspires to play at the highest level of competition. To compete against the best of the best on the biggest stage imaginable. For myself and the Horizons Edge Volleyball Club 17’s team, we had the opportunity to travel to Orlando, Florida and compete in AAU nationals this past June.
Our club season began in November when girls from around the valley gathered in the gym to try out for the team. After two weeks of competing for a spot on the team, the roster was set and our season was in full swing. Over the course of the next few months, we traveled everywhere from Virginia Beach to Richmond to play in tournaments and improve our skills collectively. We were able to take advantage of the new facilities at Horizons Edge to practice twice a week throughout our season. Being able to depend on gym space was an important aspect for our team to be able to compete at the highest level when we traveled to tournaments.
The hours we spent in the gym over the past few months helped to prepare us when we all drove 14 hours south to Orlando to play in AAU Nationals. Walking into the gym was somewhat overwhelming. The tournament was spread out between three large buildings that combined to house over 170 courts. In our 17 club division alone, there were 188 teams. The 17 age group overall was made up of 582 teams from across the country.
Our first match of the four-day tournament was everything we hoped for, an even match-up that stretched into three sets where we came out with a 15-6 victory in the final set. Our momentum carried us through our next two matches of the evening although the outcome was not what we had hoped it would be. Tournaments we had previously competed in only lasted two days; so when we entered the third and fourth days of playing in Orlando, we were exhausted. Nonetheless, we continued to compete at a high level and picked up another win.
Playing on a court surrounded by so many parents, college coaches and other players watching could easily have shaken our team. However, we persevered through the pressure of the tournament and put up a good fight for our families that sacrificed their own time to allow us to play in Florida.
Although we may not have placed as high as we would have liked, the experience itself was an eye-opening opportunity to show us just how good the competition is. Unlike some of the local tournaments we competed in throughout the season, playing in nationals presented us with the chance to showcase our abilities at the highest level possible. Due to COVID-19, during 2020 many of my teammates and I were not able to play the sport we love. Consequently, having the opportunity to not only play volleyball in a different setting, but to bond as a team throughout the season is one that I know we will not take for granted.