The national Junior Olympic girls volleyball championships start today in Albuquerque in the fabled arena known as "The Pit," site of the 1983 NCAA men's basketball Final Four. The Washington area is represented by several clubs headed by respected college coaches.
The Deerfield Volleyball Club, based in Laurel, is sending two squads -- an 18-and-under and a 16-and-under -- to represent the Chesapeake region that is comprised of club teams from Delaware, Maryland, the District and Northern Virginia. Coaching the 16-and-under team, which hasn't lost in the region in three years, is Catholic University Coach Jim Pavlacka.
Pavlacka is in his fourth year at the helm of Deerfield. Five of its teams have played for the national championship during that span.
Pavlacka, who also serves as national Junior Olympic coordinator, a liaison between the 33 regions and the national office in Colorado Springs, coached the Deerfield 16-and-under team to the Chesapeake championship in April, giving the squad an automatic berth in the nationals.
Hundreds of players from high schools around the region try out for the Deerfield Club teams each year, a group that is pared to 40 to 50 members by the time competition begins in February.
Pavlacka said membership on a prestigious club team can serve as a stepping stone for a berth on one of the national squads, including the women's 1992 Olympic team.
The Deerfield 18-and-under squad is coached by Mike Izumi, Pavlacka's assistant at Catholic. The squad enters the tournament at a disadvantage because most of its starting team is not making the trip in order to earn money for college.
Deerfield is not the only local club taking part in the tournament.
Capital Volleyball Club, based in Montgomery County but also made up of players from Prince George's, Anne Arundel and Howard counties, is fielding two teams.
Capital Blue is coached by Georgetown physics professor Joe McClure, who served as the university's volleyball coach in 1974-83. The club is perhaps best known for propelling the Stross sisters into the collegiate ranks, Gretchen at Georgetown and Beverly at Duke. Youngest sister Barbara was recently named All-Met at Wootton.
McClure said he is aiming for a top 20 finish in Albuquerque. "Talent is not the problem. The problem is that teams in the West and upper Midwest get to play the top levels of teams every day. We only get a little dose of the top teams here, so it's hard to compete."
Izumi concurs. "A lot of it is attitude. It's hard to get sponsorship because too many people here look at volleyball as a back-yard picnic game, and not as a competitive sport," he said. "The kids out West have fun, but they know they're out there to play volleyball."