The USA Volleyball Open National Championships is one of Sport Court’s favorite tournaments! The Opens demonstrate that volleyball is a diverse lifetime sport that can be played by people of various abilities. Volleyball players from different age groups, backgrounds and countries gather at the COBO Center in Detroit, MI to share their love for the game.
In preparation for the Opens, Sport Court connected with individual players and teams competing in the tournament. Sport Court believes that everyone can be an athlete and our conversations with players attending the Opens proves this! Each team and individual shared their volleyball story with Sport Court and now we’d like to share them with you!
GREG CLOSE AND THE KINGS MOUNTAIN FOG
After winning 16 National Championships and playing over 60 final matches, the Kings Mountain Fog club teams attribute their success to teamwork and compatibility. Greg Close, a coach and player for Kings Mountain Fog, says, “We aren’t made of all-star players and still we’re recognized as one of the better teams. We are mentally tough and play well together. We learned how to win and how to maintain that success. It’s easier to relax in the big moments when you know what your teammates are going to do and you trust each other. We’ve been successful but very simple. Same strategy every play - just do it right.”
ALICE SANCHEZ OF THE MAVERICKS
At 82 years old, Alice has attended the USAV Open National Championships 52 years in a row! Volleyball has kept her physically and mentally alert and provided her with friendship and love. In 1967, Alice met her husband on a co-ed volleyball team. Her now husband refused to hit one of her sets “because he didn’t like it”. Alice kicked him off the court and two weeks later they were in love!
Alice has a statement about volleyball that she uses a lot, "I am on this merry-go-round and I am not ready to get off!”
Tom has been playing volleyball for almost 60 years! His career began at the age of 16 when he started playing at the local YMCA, where is father was the director. After playing for two or three years he started competing with his YMCA team in tournaments. His team worked their way up from Level C to, what was then, Level AA.
Tom first attended the USAV Open National Championships in 1968. As a player, Tom enjoys the competition and camaraderie of volleyball. He plans on continuing his volleyball career to sustain his health, maintain his friendships and keep satisfying his competitive drive.
MARIA CRISTINA LAJUSTICIA KICA
Since 1999 Maria Cristina "Kica" Lajusticia has played on, organized and coordinated competitive Brazilian teams for the Brazil Mix Club. She has taken teams to the USA Open National Championships and the World Masters Games. This year, there are more than 70 players on 11 teams from the Brazil Mix Women Volleyball Club traveling to the USA Open National Championships.
Maria grew up playing volleyball in youth clubs and has held spots on Brazilian national teams. She has competed in the Brazilian Masters category and championships.
JAMES E. STUCK AND SITTING VOLLEYBALL
In December 2005 James’ right leg was shattered below the knee when a roadside bomb in Iraq hit him. The incident resulted in James’ right leg being amputated form the knee down.
While recovering from his injury at the Walter Reed Medical Center James was introduced to disabled sports. Through military sports camps and clinics he became acquainted with sitting volleyball. In December of 2006, he started playing sitting volleyball and by February 2007 he had moved to Oklahoma to be a resident athlete.
During his first year as a resident athlete James made the sitting team’s traveling roster, “My first or second travel tournament was the Pan Am games in Rio. I didn’t get in for very many points but I remember the game being so fast and so crazy! I didn’t know what was going on. It was amazing being on the court and playing at such a high level so quickly after my injury.”
James believes everyone should play sitting volleyball at least once, “Everyone should come play sitting volleyball! Play it at least once to understand it and see a different aspect of the game.”
The sitting game brings a new perspective to standing volleyball. Through sitting you learn to read the ball faster and quickly register what plays are being set up, allowing you to know where the ball is going before it gets there. If players are slow to react in the sitting game they don’t have time to use their hands to move their bodies and then make a play. The quick reaction time developed in sitting volleyball makes a huge impact on a player’s reaction time and skills in the standing game.
Playing or observing sitting volleyball also helps erase the judgment connected with disabled athletes. “A lot of people see you as a amputee and they feel bad for you but we can do things! The judgment is passed so quickly and people would never guess that a disabled player could have a 10’4” vertical.”
James is trying to push sitting volleyball into the public eye. Disabled sports in America, compared to Europe, are a taboo subject. They tend to be discussed behind closed doors and don’t receive much public attention. James is also trying to spread the knowledge of disabled sports to foster participation, “There are other athletes with injuries sitting on their couch when they could be playing a sport but they don’t know it’s an option!”
James is especially passionate about propelling the awareness of disabled sports because volleyball has become his life. The sport has helped James adjust to a new normal in his life and has enabled him to go forward with the mindset of “my life is over and I can’t do x, y and z anymore because of my injury”.
Greg, Alice, Tom, Maria and James have a strong passion for volleyball and a lot of you do to! We’d love to hear what volleyball means to you. Tweet your volleyball story to @SportCourt1974