Ocala volleyball squad sees five teams in nationals

Isabelle Baluyot, 13, left, digs the ball as Cassidy McDonald, 13, right, backs her up during a drill in practice at Ocala Power United Volleyball in Ocala on June 16. Five teams from Ocala Power United qualified for the national championships this year. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]
Ocala Power United volleyball can claim an unprecedented five teams at this year’s USA Volleyball Girls Junior National Championship.

“Yeah, good run this year. Obviously, when you qualify five teams in a town like this, that’s exceptional,” said Jeff Reavis, executive director of OPU.

OPU teams for 12-year-olds, 13-year-olds, 14-year-olds and 16-year-olds will compete in Las Vegas from June 25-July 5.

The 18-year-old team already finished the season in April with a trip to the National Championships in Columbus, Ohio. Reavis said the older players’ season ends earlier so they can prepare for college.

Reavis, who has coached at bigger clubs in Tampa and Gainesville, said qualifying five teams is no short order.

“You can take clubs that are three to four times our size and not do that so, exceptional job by everyone this year… the staff, the families… so appreciative because it’s hard to explain to them how unique it is,” he said.

In Las Vegas, each age division plays on different days, so the teams will fly out in staggered order. But each will arrive in Nevada a few days before their first match to try and acclimate to the desert heat and dry climate.

Ashlyn Hallick, 12, spikes the ball over the net during practice with the 12 and under team at Ocala Power United Volleyball in Ocala on June 16. The team is one of five that qualified for the national championships this year. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 
“Here’s what you know about Las Vegas: First of all, it’s going to be 110 degrees. It’s going to be the driest heat you’ve ever been in. Your kid is going to be dehydrated after the first day,” Reavis said. “So, getting out there at least two days early makes this job a little bit better because your kid will get used to it.”

While teams will have a chance to visit the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam and other age-appropriate attractions in Las Vegas on their days off, the rest of the time they will be focused on why they are there, Reavis said.

Since the start of the season in November, players have come to practice three to four days a week. After qualifying for the state championships, practices began to morph into scrimmages to prepare for the stiff competition. OPU frequently faced teams from Gainesville, Tampa and Orlando for scrimmages.

For Reavis, having five teams qualify this season is a testament to what he and his staff of coaches are instilling in players at an early age.

“It’s a tribute to what we do with some of our younger kids here,” he said. “That’s that development. We have a mini-club, then we have tiny tots, we have 6, 7 and 8-year-olds in here. So, working with these kids and not taking them from somewhere else is a big deal. We spend a lot of time. I think that’s what’s made us so successful.”

Ocala is recognized as one of the best for girls’ volleyball, he said.

“Just to be successful in this group and in this area, it’s a really good thing. Because it is small,” he said. “You can’t talk about Florida volleyball, the state of, without talking about this area. And at least saying, ‘Okay, they’re competitive. You’re going to play a team from Ocala, you’re going to have to show up. It’s not going to be a W every time.’”

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