How much has the Columbia Volleyball Club progressed in seven years? Bill Shook, the club's founder and president, figures to find out this week.
Two Columbia club teams, the 16-and-under Lightning and the 14-and-under Condors, and three older, local high school players -- Shannon Saltzman, Carlyn Cangiano and Kelly Smith -- are participating in this week's Volleyball Festival at the University of California-Davis in Sacramento.
The festival, based in what is regarded as the nation's volleyball hotbed, features more than 600 teams from about 30 states. The teams range in age from 12-and-under to 18-and-under.
Shook, who coaches the Condors, was attracted to the Volleyball Festival partly because of its unconventional format. Although it will crown champions in each age group, the festival, which began Sunday and concludes Saturday, will stress competition over trophies. Each team is guaranteed a minimum of 12 matches.
"It's nice for the girls to know they are going to play at least that many matches after traveling 3,000 miles. Twelve matches is basically a high school season," said Shook, who added it cost about $700 per player to make the trip. The teams are staying in dormitories at the University of California.
"I want them to get a taste of what real volleyball is like," added Shook. "It really opens their eyes. Some of them will face reality and say this is too tough and drop the sport. Others are going to bear down and do what they need to do to play at a college level someday."
Saltzman is one of the latter players. Heading into her senior year at Centennial High School, the 6-foot Saltzman is coming off a season in which she led the Eagles to a Class 3A state championship and was named the Howard County Sun's Player of the Year.
She will be one of the state's more heavily recruited players this fall. College coaches, dozens of whom will attend the Volleyball Festival, can begin recruiting high school seniors after July 1.
Saltzman and Cangiano, Saltzman's junior teammate at Centennial, are Columbia Volleyball Club 18-and-under team members who were added to the Capital Volleyball Club. Capital, which is based in Alexandria, Va., also includes Kelly Smith, a senior at Atholton.
"I was honored to be invited to play for them [Capital]," Saltzman said. "I think they're a really good club. It's exciting to play with new people and work with new coaches. I'm told there are a lot of college coaches coming to watch. I'm just concentrating on playing. That's what I enjoy the most."
Capital is coached by Tim Dunbar, who guided Severna Park (Anne Arundel) to a Class 4A state title last fall. He envisions Saltzman and Smith playing their customary middle-hitter positions primarily, while Cangiano will operate mostly at outside hitter.
"The purpose of this tournament is to be seen [by college coaches]," said Dunbar, whose team will compete against nearly 200 other squads.
"Shannon can be dominating in the middle. She has good, all-around court sense and she can do pretty much anything," Dunbar added. "Kelly has a blistering serve when she's on, she passes well and she never makes the same mistake twice. Carly is the only non-senior on the team, but she might be a better player than any of them by the time she's a senior."
As for the Columbia Volleyball Club teams, some future college stars may turn the heads of a few college recruiters as well.
The Columbia Lightning, coached by Greg Johnson, contains numerous players from the county, including Marisa Davidson (Glenelg sophomore), Carrie Shadrick (Centennial sophomore), Kelly Quinn (Mount Hebron freshman), Erika Hockycko (Centennial sophomore), Sheri Kujawa (Centennial freshman), Krisha Svehla (Centennial freshman) and Kelly West (Centennial freshman). The Lightning are competing against 255 other teams in the 16-and-under bracket.
Shook's Condors, who will compete against 127 other 14-and-under teams, consist of middle school students from the county. Amy Adams, Erica Cooper, Jennifer Klimm, Katie McCulloch and Jenny West attend Dunloggin Middle School, where Shook teaches physical education. Elisa Davidson and Cara Franklin attend Glenwood. Kathy Emrich and Kerry Quinn attend Ellicott Mills. Amanda Smith attends Patapsco Middle School.
"After going through a whole club season [January to June], then this tournament, you can see their maturity," said Shook, who has taken a 14-and-under team to a national tournament for four straight summers. "They aren't intimidated in loud gyms. They aren't fazed by long matches.
"We've come close to beating some California teams in the past," he added. "If we can beat just one California team, that would be a great accomplishment."