Earlier this month, Miami, Fla., had a Northeast Ohio feel to it.
Five Medina County volleyball players represented the area in the Sunshine State at the 30th annual USA Junior Olympic National Championships at the Miami Beach Convention Center.
No one enjoyed the sunny atmosphere more than Medina’s Emily Witsaman.
The senior helped lead her 17-and-under Cleveland Volleyball Company team to the national championship in the National Division.
“It was awesome,” Witsaman said. “It took me a while to feel like we won it all, but it just feels great.”
Witsaman’s team, coached by former Medina coach Sherry Martin (then O’Callaghan), avenged an earlier loss in pool play to beat Sports Shack out of Los Angeles in two games, 25-23, 26-24 to take the title.
Witsaman used her 6-foot-2 frame on the right side to help shut down Sports Shack. The California squad was loaded with stellar outside hitters who gave CVC problems in a 25-20, 16-25, 15-10 loss earlier in the tournament.
“She was key in the finals,” said Martin, who was a standout player at Medina when her last name was Gifford. “Her job is to funnel the ball or shut down the outside and that was the key to us winning.
“With her at 6-2, she is so key for a big block against an opposing hitter and she’s done a great job of that.”
Witsaman just finished her second season with CVC and is already committed to play at The University of Maryland-Baltimore County in 2010.
The area had a solid showing all the around as fellow Medina players Ally Peters and Kaitlyn Witsaman competed on separate Junior Olympic squads in the 15-U tournament.
Cloverleaf’s Corrin Early and Laura McDermott joined forces on Ohio Elite, which finished second in the 17-U American Division.
“It was really intense,” Early said of the experience. “It was like state and was so amazing to get out there and play teams from all over.”
Early’s Ohio Elite squad, which finished fifth as a group at the event last summer, fell to the 951 Elite Team of California in the title game.
Early, a standout outside hitter, also got the opportunity to play libero and showcase her other talents for college scouts.
Playing alongside high school teammate middle hitter Laura McDermott was an added bonus.
“Laura and I have played together for a long time … we have a lot of fun,” said Early, who is looking at programs such as Dominican (N.Y.). “We both run a couple of plays at the same time and play pretty well together.”
Peters, a sophomore, propelled her 15-U CVC team to a national runner-up finish. Her squad lost a tough match in the championship game in the National Division in their first trip to the J.O. Championships.
The daughter of Medina boys basketball coach Jody Peters, Ally had a solid tournament from her outside hitter position. Her level of play did not go unnoticed.
The 5-11 netter was named to the All-Tournament team.
“She’s doing great and has got a lot stronger and quicker,” Martin said. “She’s a blast to be around because she has such a positive personality. It’s been fun to watch her grow up.”
Medina sophomore Kaitlyn Witsaman helped the Maverick/ACE 15-U team rebound from a tough start at the tournament to win the fourth flight bracket and finish 33rd overall.
The team was coached by former Brunswick coach and current Cleveland State University assistant Brian Coughlin.
After dropping its first four matches, Witsaman’s squad won five of its last six. Included in the wins was a victory over the Toledo Volleyball Company for the flight championship. Toledo had beaten the Mavericks earlier in the season.
The county contingent took away some valuable experience playing on the national stage.
“It was a great experience going down there and playing teams from all over,” the 5-9 Kaitlyn said. “We played well as a team, despite losing some close games. But we played great enough to win our flight.
“It was our first time down there and this helps to prepare for the high school season. To see players that are this tall forces you to play harder and helps us to get better.”
Contact Dan Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org