JVA cancels World Challenge, AAU postpones again, USAV allows activities to resume

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Girls Junior Update 5/15/2020-Adam Ellis-North Pacific Juniors
Adam Ellis said his North Pacific Juniors 18s would compete in Reno if they get the chance

There’s not much left.

While USA Volleyball had Friday marked for when it would allow sanctioned activities to resume, it was also the same day that the JVA canceled its already-postponed World Challenge in Louisville and AAU Nationals in Orlando was postponed again, this time until July 14.

What’s still out there after a week in which the remaining USA Volleyball national qualifiers were all canceled?

USA Volleyball still has on its schedule its girls nationals championship in late June/early July in Dallas, its previously postponed 18s girls nationals in Reno slated for June 23-25, and its boys nationals in Reno in late June/early July. And perhaps there might be some regions that will still hold competitions.

This past week the cancellations included two of the biggest events, Big South and Lone Star.

What’s more, the impact of a season being swept from under clubs can be felt through a survey the JVA sent out to its members. The JVA received 157 responses executive director Jenny Hahn said and the results speak for themselves. 

“One of the questions we asked was economic impact lost by clubs,” Hahn said. “With the responses we received, it added up to $10 million. It also included over 4,000 flights canceled and 34,000 room nights.”

The AAU held hope to still conduct its event, one that normally boasts nearly 3,000 teams but now with an entry list just more than 500.

“Since 1888, the AAU has prided itself on providing quality event participation opportunities to millions of athletes in a safe environment,” AAU President and CEO Dr. Roger Goudy said in Friday’s news release. “Our goal has always been to host the AAU Junior National Volleyball Championships when, and where, it was deemed safe to do so and with all necessary containment and mitigation measures in place.  

“In working with OCCC, we recognize the current status of the disease precludes us from meeting that goal by the original dates in June. Therefore, out of an abundance of caution, the decision was made to move the AAU Volleyball event to start July 14. We appreciate everyone’s support and understanding as we continue to navigate these uncharted waters during this time.”

The AAU announcement came two days after the NCAA extended the recruiting dead period for college coaches through June 30. 

“The Division I Council Coordination Committee extended the recruiting dead period through June 30. The committee will review the dead-period dates on May 27 and could extend the dead period at that time,” an NCAA release stated. 

Pushing AAUs back could also change the number of teams pulling out and help add numbers back to the list. As of this week, the tournament had just than 500 teams registered. Clubs are obviously concerned about the impacts of COVID-19 but a simple reality remains regardless of those risks. 

“We withdrew because we can’t bring kids in to train,” KiVA club director Ron Kordes said. “We can’t go down there (to Florida) with no practice after having sat around for three months. We can’t make do with that. Aside from any risk from the virus and that aspect, that sealed the deal for us.”

KiVA hosts its annual Bluegrass Tournament in early March which was also the last weekend any sanctioned events were conducted. Kordes said he hadn’t heard of anything coronavirus-related emanating from the event but also finds it hard to believe things weren’t happening that weekend. 

“We were extremely fortunate to get it in. We had 116 courts running. You know (the virus) had to be there,” Kordes said. “I haven’t heard of anything from it and that was a couple of months ago. But, there had to be people there carrying it. It’s amazing to me that we are dealing with something like this. I assume we are all going through the same things.”

We spoke with Kordes before AAUs made its most recent announcement. Perhaps given the new timing the club could have enough time to train and prepare for the tournament if state guidelines allow. Still, plenty remains up in the air.  KiVA, which is located in Kentucky, is still waiting to find out exactly where it stands as a club. 

“Our state didn’t make Phase 1,” Kordes said. “That didn’t happen. The last date we heard was June 15 but that was for youth sports to resume outdoors. We are submitting a proposal to the Governor’s office. The guidelines are ambiguous. 

“We have a gym in our facility with weights and a treadmill. Those are allowed to open June 1. Obviously, we can’t get in a full practice with a full gym, but we are outlining procedures and submitting those to see if we can do something.”

Everyone is searching for a path forward but steps toward doing so remain murky. That’s adding to the difficulty surrounding what to do. 

“People want answers and we don’t have the answers,” Kordes said. “We don’t know anyone who does. We are going week-to-week. We are holding virtual practices one night a week. We are trying to keep them involved anyway we can. I think we all hit a high frustration level.”

Earlier in the week, the last of the remaining qualifiers were canceled with Big South and Lone Star. Big South announced its still planning to hold a festival-type event in July for clubs that want to play again this season, but there won’t be any bids and it’ll be a fun event a statement said. 

Something similar could happen in Arizona with the Volleyball Festival. That state’s guidelines are different to the point that clubs are able to resume operations as normal. The club Livewire is back at it. Arizona Storm, meanwhile, is taking a more cautious approach. Also, Storm is in a different position since it uses schools to practice.

“Arizona I guess is good to go,” Storm club director Terri Spann said. “Livewire has started. I heard they had a great turnout. The kids are in. They have a great set up over there. For us, it’s totally different. We don’t own a facility. We have to wait for schools to open. We did reach out to teams to see but for us nationally we aren’t doing anything. Our kids have been working out. They’ve had time to recover. But for us it’s about getting in the gym to get reps and getting back to the sport they love. 

“We won’t be training for nationals or AAUs. We are dealing with kids who simply need to get out. I’m seeing it in them.”

Still, not much is known regarding USAV’s plans to host the 18s championships and other age groups set for late June. With the qualifiers canceled not all the bids were awarded this season and how those spots would be made up is unknown. USA Volleyball has been making periodical updates, including one Wednesday when it gave the OK for Friday.

“I think the frustration for most clubs is that USAV didn’t come out with much until this week,” Spann said. “It had been some time since they had addressed it.”

North Pacific Junior club director Adam Ellis said from Oregon that while things remain up in the air, his 18s team would travel to Reno and compete in the Open division should USAV hold the event. 

“My team would go,” he said. “They all want to go. They all want to be over there. I don’t foresee it happening though. Not if you read the Nevada guidelines. They aren’t close to it.”

In the meantime, clubs are doing what they can based on what’s allowed and what’s not. 

In larger regions like the Southern California Volleyball Association, that means different approaches. Los Angeles County officials announced this week stay-at-home orders could extend for an additional three months. How that impacts a large club like San Gabriel Elite, located in downtown L.A., isn’t readily known. 

Club director Kenji Mukai said SG Elite is not only going by county and city guidelines but working on its own protocols as well. 

He said the club is focusing on baby steps and when allowed to resume planning on coming back in stages. The first stage would be one-on-one workouts, then expanding to small groups and then eventually to full team practices. But again, Mukai said a lot depends on county and state guidelines as to when they can safely participate again. In terms of attending any more tournaments, Mukai said the club isn’t there yet. 

“There are no definite answers on attending,” he said. “It’s getting late but we need to make sure we make the right decisions for our players, families and coaching staff.”

In San Diego, there’s no doubting Wave and club director Brennan Dean is itching to get back to it. How and when though remains the question. 

Dean said the club has been working on plans for when the club can resume, juggling both beach and indoors at the same time. 

“We definitely talked about that with outdoor recreations opening like golf,” Dean said. “It does maybe present itself for beach to open up. However, we aren’t rushing into any decisions.”

Whether tournaments like AAUs and USAV come through or not, the sentiment out there seems to be to get some sort of volleyball in. 

Kordes, Spann and Dean all said they have had discussions about scrimmages or playing local teams within their own regions. 

“We have been discussing that and we would 100 percent to that if that opportunity safely presents itself,” Dean said. 

In addition to the AAU update and USAV announcement this week, the JVA canceled its three remaining events in the Long Beach West Coast Cup, Columbus SummerFest and its largest tournament, the World Challenge.

That event was already postponed from early April to June, but on Friday, “We had to pull the plug on the World Challenge,” the JVA’s Hahn said. “June 1 is when they are hoping to meet the parameters of outdoor social distance sports. There is no way to get a convention center.”

There was still demand to attend, though numbers fell recently, Hahn said. As many teams that initially dropped out were replaced from teams on the waiting list still wanting to participate. The entry list was full until recently when Hahn said about 300-400 teams withdrew.

The JVA, tournament and club directors alike have been dealing with the repercussions of it all. The waiting game has only added to the stress. With some tournament not canceling until recently, that’s essentially left money dangling. 

“There haven’t been enough answers and that can make us look bad as club directors,” Spann said. “We’ll refund all the money when we get it back. We just received our refund for Red Rock this week.”

The business aspect is clear and so is another issue. No one wants to accept that there won’t be any more volleyball this spring or summer. And despite clubs working to do whatever they can to make something happen, for some that might be the reality. 

“Besides trying to run a business where there is no revenue,” Kordes said, “you have seniors who might not have any closures to their club careers. I feel sorry for them and all the school functions they are missing. Also, juniors they are missing valuable time when it comes to recruiting. The sophomores have time to make it up but juniors don’t.”

KiVA is ready to resume as soon as the green light is granted Kordes said. It won’t come without certain risks. Mitigating those is part of the process of having volleyball return. 

 “It’s a major concern to want to protect people obviously,” Kordes said. “I’m in that age group that is especially vulnerable. Now we are seeing cases of kids contracting and it and where they can be transmitting it. It’s really hard to get kids at this young age group to social distance.”

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