Shannon Saltzmann and her teammates might not have walked away with the trophy from the NIKE Volleyball Festival in California this month, but her Virginia-based Capitals did bring back a lot of memories and plenty of knowledge about the game.
The Capitals and two teams from Columbia -- the 16-and-under Lightnings and the 14-and-under Condors -- said they were more than happy with their performance, despite not winning.
"It was a huge tournament, and our team played really well together," said Saltzmann, who will be a senior at Centennial High School this fall. "We bonded really well for people were from different clubs that never played together before.
"We just made bad mistakes at different times. But we learned a lot about playing real volleyball."
Carlyn Cangiano of Centennial and Kelly Smith of Atholton High also played for the Capitals.
The three teams participated in the weeklong volleyball festival at the University of California-Davis in Sacramento. There are 10 county players on the Condors team and seven on the Lightnings roster. Billed as the largest single sporting event in the world, the festival featured more than 600 teams from some 30 states.
The Capitals finished 102nd among 210 teams in their 18-and-under division, while the Condors, coached by club founder and president Bill Shook, won the consolation bracket's "Character Division," and placed 120th out of 137 teams. The Lightnings, coached by Greg Johnson, had the best performance, placing 64th among 248 teams.
"I'm certainly not disappointed with their play and they should not be either," said Capitals coach Tim Dunbar. "They were never completely overmatched in any of their losses and lost only by a few points. They were all very close matches.
"I think they were a little disheartened when they thought back about how we could have placed in the top third if we hadn't lost some of those matches," Dunbar said. "But we accomplished all our goals there, which were to play competitive volleyball, be seen by college recruiters and enjoy ourselves."
The Lightnings players had a great time, but were disappointed because they could have placed higher if they hadn't had to fly home on the last game day, Johnson said.
"We've never played this tournament before, and it was definitely a different experience," Johnson said. "We did extremely well, and the festival showed my players that they weren't far behind the infamous volleyball teams from California.
"It was a good tournament and a good season for all of our teams," he added.
The experience will help players like Saltzmann, who led her high school team to a Class 3A state championship last year, play better in high school competition.
"We play basic volleyball in Howard County, and [tournament teams] played a more intense, offensive game," Saltzmann said. "We got to see different styles and the experience of playing year-round just makes you a better player.