Junior Mint: Club deepens v-ball talent pool

"Sacramento, the capital city of California, is as hot this time of year as volleyball, the sport, is cold.But the combination is heaven for Tobie Moore and her Kitsap Juniors.Moore, the Juniors' director, and coach Lisa Morales will take a 10-member team south later this month for the Davis Volleyball Festival, which she called the largest indoor youth women's sporting event in the world.Everybody who doesn't qualify for nationals goes to Davis - it's actually bigger than nationals, says Moore. It's a great experience for the kids who get to go.We've heard about how big it is, adds Mea Gardner-Brown, a senior-to-be at Klahowya and a member of the Juniors' 16-and-under Impact team. We're looking forward to the experience, seeing the different level of competition.The very fact that the Juniors are headed to central California for a major tournament at a time of year when volleyball is just about the last sport on most of Kitsap's mind is indicative of where Moore has the 9-year-old club headed.If there's volleyball going on, that's great, says Moore, at once ending the first year of her Juniors tenure and preparing for her second as head coach at Olympic College. The whole idea is to give kids the opportunity to play longer than they would otherwise.It's working. The Juniors are at the nets almost year-round.There's only a month off, says Central Kitsap's Mandy Frum, a sometime-starter for the Cougars as a sophomore last fall who will be a key component on their young team for the 2001 season, their first in the Narrows League. It's great experience, not just for what we're learning (in practices), but from playing all year.The Juniors program, which draws girls from as far away as Port Angeles to the north and Allyn to the south, is having a definite impact on the way the sport is being played, and perceived, on the Kitsap Peninsula.We're a lot better known, Gardner-Brown says of the 16-and-under team's reputation around the Puget Sound tournament circuit. You can see (the improvement in) our standings. I think people actually get intimidated by us now.Morales' 16-and-unders finished second in the recent regional championships, and the Juniors' three other age-group teams - including a fledgling 14-and-under squad - all did their part to put the program on the map.But the program's impact is being felt in many other, less direct ways. Gardner-Brown, her younger sister Tessa and a half dozen other Klahowya players are evidence of the effect it could have on the local high school scene. Klahowya has struggled in the sport since its debut four years agoPractically our whole starting team (this coming fall) played for the club, she says. It's huge, because we want to start a winning tradition at our school, and we can take the experience we get here back to that team.Even the established prep programs can benefit, though, according to Frum, whose CKHS team annually has earned a berth in the West Central District tournament.We lost so many seniors (after the 2000 season), she says, we're going to be young this year. There's a lot the club players can take back to that team.The benefits come back to Moore, too, in her capacity as OC's head coach. She pointed out that five members of her 2001 squad, which begins play the last day of August, have Kitsap Juniors backgrounds.(OC athletic director) Barry Janusch said I'd have to recruit somewhere other than the peninsula if we wanted to be competitive, Moore says, but I told him he was wrong.The talent is here. We just had to get it playing volleyball.The Juniors program has been around since 1992. It annually fielded two age-group teams and one year managed three.When Moore took over as director, she says, her focus was on expanding the number of opportunities for girls to learn and play the game. The four teams undertaken for 2001, with the 16-U's as the flagship, was a high-water mark she'd like to expand on even more.I think one thing I did was to take the 'eliteness' out of the club, she says. In the past, some kids might've stayed away because they thought it was only for elite-level kids. We don't think that at all. Our whole thing is to get more kids playing. "

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