The Texas Advantage Volleyball 17 Blue team took gold in the USA Volleyball Junior National Championships in July, running through the USA division in Detroit without dropping a match.
The victory was a long time coming for head coach Whitney Sample, who has been a head coach in the organization for five years but has been associated with TAV since high school due to her father John serving as president and owner.
Sample’s squads finished second in each of the last two club seasons, with this year’s performance marking her first title at the helm of her own team.
“They knew that I’d gotten second two years in a row, and they were like, ‘We want to be the team that wins,’” Sample said. “They really wanted to go win it, and they know they could.”
The first-place finish may have been sweet for Sample, but the TAV bench boss said it was even sweeter to see the elation among her players.
“Those girls were so excited,” she said. “We knew that was our goal, and we worked toward it all season. Watching those girls’ faces – they were crying and happy and so excited – it was one of those [moments] where the kids, the parents, everybody was just so ecstatic. ... I was so proud of them.”
While the USA divisions are a step down from the Open divisions at the national event, which are considered the most prestigious, Sample said she feels her TAV 17 Blue club participated in the next most competitive bracket.
“Even as a second team, to be able to win a division is huge,” she said. “I would say, out of all of the divisions, [USA] is probably one step down from Open.”
Flower Mound’s Abigail Butler and Lovejoy’s Gracie Sutherland and Grace Broussard took the floor for Sample and TAV, with each contributing in a specific role.
Butler, one of the two new players on the team, was forced to move from the middle to the right side due to an injury. She played right side through the last two qualifiers, then continued to hold down the role in nationals, where Sample said she was a tremendous asset and teammate.
As for Sutherland, a setter that her coach said was a leader on the court, and Broussard, the team’s libero, Sample said their rediscovery of their love for the game after being unsure if they would even suit up this summer was a positive thing for both the players and the team.
The summer was a strong one from start to finish for the club, which took down its first nationals qualifier in Indianapolis without losing a match. With its bid to Detroit secured, the team decided to take on the Open bracket at its second qualifier in Kansas City, where it fought through a key injury and lineup changes to finish just outside the top 10.
Finally, in the Mizuno Lone Star Classic, TAV 17 Blue dominated once again, sweeping through the USA division without dropping a single set.
All of that success had the program feeling confident heading into Detroit, where it made good on its potential.
“This year, I would say, was a little bit different. Sometimes you’re working on different things, and this group had a lot of the pieces it needed,” Sample said. “They were really physical, and they just kind of grinded it all out and did what they had to do to win, no matter what. It was a really cool year to watch.”
Sample said the bond between the players on the TAV 17 Blue team made this summer’s slate a unique and special season.
“We had two kids that were seniors and that are going to go to college, and we had a few that had already made the decision that they weren’t going to play club anymore,” she said. “This was a group that, for the most part, has played together on and off for most of their club careers. This team had a bond like no other. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.”
For continued coverage of the local sports scene, follow @TaylorRaglin on Twitter.