idwest teams and star setters were among the bonds that tied the top two division winners in June’s mammoth AAU Junior National Girls’ Volleyball Championships. The sheer number of teams (more than 1,300) and players (roughly 14,000) at the event was staggering. It was as if a small army of mostly tall, athletic and long-limbed females, ages 12 to 18, had descended upon Orlando.
During the week-long tournament, club teams from as far as Alaska and Puerto Rico played a combined total of 7,376 matches on 99 courts spread out over two venues – the Orange County Convention Center and ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex.
Of all those players at the event sponsored by ESPN Rise, two truly stood out, and both are rising seniors who could find themselves battling for the same championship in 2012.
First there was Morgan Bergren, who led her Muncie, Ind.-based Munciana Samurai to the 18-Under title. Samurai defeated Aurora, Ill.-based Sports Performance, 25-23, 25-22. Bergren, a 6-1 setter who has committed to the University of Kentucky, was named MVP of the 18-U tournament.
“Before the season started, I thought if Morgan developed, we’d have a shot,” Samurai Coach Mike Ligenfelter said. “If not, it was going to be a rough road.”
Despite having been a setter only three years, Bergren blossomed quickly.
“I knew that to play at this level, I had to work my butt off,” Bergren said.
Teammate Kiarra Jones, who will play for Purdue this fall, said she has witnessed the work her teammate put in to achieve her goals.
“She goes to passing lessons, setting lessons and then comes to our practices,” Jones said. “It’s ridiculous. I can’t believe how many hours she puts in to be a better setter.”
One day after Samurai made Muncie proud, Sky High, from the suburbs of Chicago, won the 17-U title, defeating Texas Advantage Volleyball, 25-15, 17-25, 15-10. TAV, based in Fort Worth, had teams in the 15, 16 and 17 finals, winning the youngest of those divisions.
As with Samurai, Sky High was led by a smart, skilled and savvy setter. In this case, it was Abby Gilleland, who has committed to Ohio University. Gilleland, who is 5’10”, was named MVP of this year’s 17-U tournament. In 2010, she was the MVP of the 16-U tournament, leading Sky High to one of three national titles the program has earned in the past three years. (The other was the 16-U in 2009.)
Gilleland is such a leader, she even talks like a coach. Here’s a sample of Gilleland’s post-game comments: “I am so blessed to have girls who go up and swing hard every single time. They take criticism well, and they go back out and do the things we ask them to do. It’s phenomenal to be a leader for them.”
Both Samurai and Sky High are loaded with college prospects. Samurai has all 12 players committed to college, including six to BCS schools. Sky High has nine of its 10 players committed to college, including five to BCS schools.
Titles in the younger divisions went to:
16-U: 1st Alliance (16 Silver), based in Chicago, Ill.
15-U: Texas Advantage Volleyball (Rags 15 Black), based in Ft. Worth, Texas
14-U: Kentucky-Indiana Volleyball Academy (14 Red), based in Louisville, Ky.
13-U: Mid America Volleyball Association (13 Elite), based in Louisville, Ky.
12-U: Vaqueros, based in Puerto Rico
Originally published in September/October 2011