Catonsville junior Amanda Voll will be counted on to lead her volleyball team this season. She was a good player last year, but her marked improvement since then has made her a key player for the Comets.
She had lots of help in the nine months since last season concluded.
Voll is a member of an ever-expanding group of players who compete in club volleyball in the offseason. While other girls sports — such as lacrosse and field hockey — also benefit from club teams, volleyball might be the biggest beneficiary.
Area volleyball programs that do well are generally near a club, and most players on those teams play for a club.
"I used to coach at a Baltimore County school, and I'd have a team that had one or two club players on it," said Mount Hebron coach Mike Moynihan, whose Vikings are stocked with club players. "We'd go to Dulaney or Towson [where most of the players had club experience] and we'd get our clocks cleaned. It gives coaches a tactical and a coaching advantage. If they already know the fundamentals, then I don't have to teach them."
For Voll, playing for a club comes at a cost. She plays for the Columbia Volleyball Club, one of the oldest and best in the area. Her season, which lasts from the end of the high school season in November and runs through May, is expensive.
"It's cost us a few thousand dollars [each year]," said Angie Voll, Amanda's mother. "That fee covers practices, fees to enter tournaments and travel costs. It's not free, but we certainly consider it a worthwhile investment."
Playing for a club also gives local players a chance to be seen by college coaches.
"Because the college season is going on at the same time as the high school season, most college programs don't even pay attention to high school volleyball until the playoffs and state tournament," said Dave Kelley, president of the Columbia Volleyball Club and father of one of the area's best seniors, Centennial's Meghan Kelley. "This definitely gives our kids more exposure."
Angie Voll said her daughter played in a tournament in the Pittsburgh area where college scouts were prevalent.
"Although they couldn't have contact with her, they knew she had an interest in several of their programs," Voll said. "Several of them were watching her, and now that she's a junior, she is getting some mail from a few of those schools."
Kelley said the growth of clubs such as CVC has greatly benefited high school volleyball.
"It used to be that Howard County was the dominant area in volleyball in Maryland," Kelley said. "Now there are clubs all over the state. You can see this growth in the number of state titles won by teams from other areas in the state. It's paying off for the growth of the sport."
But what about schools that don't have the club advantage?
Kendall Peace has won Baltimore City titles as the volleyball coach at Poly, but it is rare that she coaches a player with club experience.
"Baltimore City used to have a small club team, but that kind of fell apart," Peace said. "My girls don't have the access to the resources they need to participate in club volleyball."
Still, it appears things might be changing.
"The city instituted a middle school program about three years ago, and for the first time this year we are seeing it starting to pay off," Peace said. "The girls who began in that program are starting to enter high school now, and you can see a difference in the quality of play."
Kelley said area clubs realize not everybody has the resources to play club volleyball.
"We have a program in place, as do several other area clubs, to help girls who don't have the financial resources," he said. "We have a program called 'The Bleacher Fund,' which helps those girls. It won't pay the whole cost of the program, but it will pay a large chunk.
"We don't approach girls to join the program; they have to come to us. A lot of people don't realize, though, that playing club volleyball is not just a huge investment in money. It's also a huge investment in time."