Sharon Vanis knows what happened in Columbus, Ohio, just might come back to haunt her someday.
The Hamilton girls volleyball coach took a group of young players from the Aspire Volleyball Club to the USA Volleyball Junior National Championships and came back with an American division national title.
A good portion of the Aspire’s 14N Black squad hail from Ahwatukee and will be headed to Desert Vista if not already enrolled.
The experience they gained by playing in a national event against some elite talent is only going to further their careers and pump up their confidence to perform in big moments later in their careers.
“I told (Desert Vista) coach (Molly) West that I was going to mess with their footwork and make them hit with their left hand,” Vanis said with a laugh. “I know it is probably going to come back to haunt me, but this is why we are in coaching — to make kids better.”
Vanis, who led the Huskies to a 33-9 record before losing in the Division I state quarterfinals last fall, has no qualms about helping Ahwatukee players like opposite hitter Erin Gilbert, outside hitter Hailey Harward, middle blocker Rachael Kramer, libero Brianna Larkin, setter Lilly Nelson and middle blocker Alexis Whittington.
“When you have a passion for coaching you don’t care who they play for down the line,” she said. “You want to develop players when you have them. Believe me when they were all in a dog pile after winning it all none of that mattered.”
Vanis was impressed with the way the team kept its composure in the finals against Blackswamp out of Ohio.
“If you were just watching the warm-ups it was match over,” she said. “Every one of their players could swing it and they were bouncing balls everywhere. It was like what are we gonna do?
“Our players took it in stride and took it to them.”
Aspire, which qualified five teams for nationals with four finishing in the top 15 of the division, won the title game 29-27, 25-20 in the 14N age group, to finish the tournament 10-1 and lost two sets in the tournament.
“This is such a great age to coach because they all want to learn and get better,” Vanis said. “They dialed and listened. They couldn’t play much better than they did.”
They qualified for the event by winning the Colorado Crossroads earlier this year so they have been on a roll for awhile.
“A lot of the players already knew each other or played on other teams,” Nelson said. “We respected each other and it made it easier to play with each other and communicate on the court.”
Even with the previous experience of playing with each other, Vanis was surprised how well they came together.
“For whatever reason this group just clicked,” she said. “From the start they came together quickly. Some of them played with each other before so that helps, but to win a national title was amazing.”
Vanis said the national event was just as impressive as the way her team played.
“There were college coaches, the atmosphere was like a state tournament and the main court was big,” she said. “The match was on a webcast, cameras were in their face, there was music and the trophy presentation was great. These girls knew they were in a big-time event.”
A couple of days after returning from Columbus, Harward and Nelson went over to Laguna Beach and won a two-girl sand volleyball tournament by coming back from a 13-point deficit for a 28-26 victory.
“Hailey and Lilly had a great tournament (in Columbus) and they kept on playing at a high level,” Vanis said. “They are a couple of special players.”
Lilly was thrilled with both titles and hesitated before answering which one meant more to her.
“Probably the national title because we did so much as a team,” said the incoming Desert Vista freshman. “The beach tournament was great, but wasn’t a national title. That’s something we will always have to remember.”
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