The brainchild of Jeff Smith and Andrew Bennett came to fruition this past week in spectacular form as the inaugural BVCA Club Vs Club National Championship took place at Newland in Huntington Beach, CA. This collegiate style format pits the best teams in each club against one another as 5 pairs from one club play against 5 pairs from another club. The idea being to decide which club is the deepest. While often a club has one or two really good teams, the format of these events helps to truly sort out which clubs have talent through and through. This year’s national championship had both a division 1 and a division 2. Clubs from Texas, Florida, California, Colorado, Washington and even Georgia qualified squads and came out to Huntington Beach to test themselves against the rest of the country.
Flash it back to a couple of years ago when this format for juniors first started. Many of the club directors were looking for a way to give juniors players the experience of the format they would see in college. Many of them were trying to get their players exposure at the national level where their teams weren’t lost in the 180 team draws of big national championships. This seemed to be the solution but was it feasible? Would clubs travel all over the country to try to qualify? Would this format bring out the best or would it flop? There was only one way to find out.
As a coach for RPM Sand I am fortunate enough to have gotten to form friendships with coaches at most all of the best beach volleyball clubs in the country, with college coaches at many of the top universities for beach volleyball, and even some of the top professional players in the world. As a club, we make every effort to stay informed on the happenings of what is going on at all of the levels of the game above us. We are in constant contact with these coaches and players asking question, and trying to give the kids in our club every advantage possible in their growth as players and in their recruiting process for college. Club vs Club seemed to be that new thing that could help our players so we jumped in as one of the first clubs right away. It caught on like wildfire. Our players all like this format so much more than going out to doubles events because of the team atmosphere it provides.
As the national championship began this year, we were incredibly excited. While we had a couple of very key injuries in our lineup, we also felt like ALL of our girls had put in the work to be incredibly competitive at the national level. Our D2 squad came out and battled their way to a 6th place finish as we were the only club in AZ to qualify squads for both divisions! They played INCREDIBLE volleyball and many of them had breakout games!
The pools came out for D1 and the #1 ranked club in the country was in our pool. While many people would have written us off, we were incredibly excited for the challenge. Preparation had met opportunity. The two years of grinding. The early mornings, the late nights, the heat of the Arizona sand, the repetitions at drills that may have seemed really boring… All of it brought us to this moment prepared. As coaches we were confident. we had been talking about it for months. We couldn’t wait to show the country what our program could do, what our kids who had worked so hard had prepared for.
The five pairs were set and the duel against the #1 club in the country was on! Because there are 5 pairs, the club that wins 3 matches first is the winner and advances. Sometimes a squad quickly wins 3 matches and the other 2 don’t really matter. Other times each squad wins 2 and it comes down to that last match that is still going to seal the duel. Against the #1 club in the country, RPM Sand went down 0-1 early as the 1’s squad lost to a very good 1’s squad of two players who are UCLA AND Long Beach State commits. In an epic battle, RPM Sand won the other 4 courts and came out with a 4-1 win to go undefeated in pool and take the overall 2 seed at the national championships! In the quarterfinal, RPM faced another club from Arizona. We won the matches on courts 3, 4, and 5 quickly and the duel was decided and we knew that we were on into the semifinal.
Thinking back to a tumultuous 2020 in which our club numbers shrank, doubt began to sink in with our sport. Tournaments shut down at the juniors level and even the NCAA canceled their season. Many players left the game all together thinking that their window to get recruited would be slammed shut by Covid. The players who stuck with us and rode out the wave were now sitting in the semifinals at the national championships. We had a minute as coaches to talk and all we could talk about was how incredibly proud of our kids we were. From the 11 year olds just getting started all the way to the seniors who had been with us for many years, we were proud. Proud of the way they each pushed each other at practice day in and day out to be better. Proud of the way they conducted themselves through so much adversity throughout the last two years. Proud of the fight in them to continue to chase their dreams with intensity and fire.
As the players took the court to warmup for the semifinal we looked around. Two California clubs, a Texas club, and RPM Sand from Arizona were left standing. The 5’s finished first and RPM Sand had put the 1st point on the board with a 22-20, 21-15 win. The next match to finish was the 2’s. we had lost that match in a great battle that ended 18-21, 18-21. The score of the duel was now 1-1. RPM’s 1’s and 4’s squads had both won the first game of their matches while the 3’s lost theirs. The 3’s came out in the second game of the match, made the needed adjustments, and took the second game while the 1’s and 4’s both dropped their second sets. The stage was set. With the duel still tied at 1-1, 3 of the other matches were in 3 game battles! The 3‘s got off to a hot start and never looked back winning their match 16-21, 21-13, 15-13. The duel was now 2-1 RPM with absolute epic battles going on with the 1’s and 4’s courts.
With both courts surrounded by parents, players from other clubs, friends, and players from our own club cheering at the top of their lungs, the battle raged on. I remember thinking to myself that this match, this tournament was a whole heck of a lot more than just a national championship tournament. It was a representation of ALL of the work that each of these players and these clubs had done over the past couple of years. it was sacrifice and heartache. It was working through frustration and trusting the process. Each player out there was playing for ALL of the other players in their club that had helped them to train, supported them when they needed it, and fought with them through more than just volleyball to get to this moment. It wasn’t just for the 10 players on the 5 courts. They were playing for the 11 year olds and the kids who had been injured. They were playing for their parents who sacrificed to get them there and the coaches who came to work with them each day. They were playing for themselves and their partners. More than any other tournament I have ever coached at, this one had a lot riding on it because of how difficult the last two years had been for us all.
When the last ball hit the sand and the duel was over, RPM had lost 3-2. As we all walked out on the court together with the last team to finish, no one was angry. No one was hysterically crying. Everyone was supportive. Everyone knew that everyone else had given it their absolute best and we were all proud of each other. RPM Sand had finished 3rd in the entire country. As pairs, we have had some top 10 finishes this summer, but together we were stronger. Together we were one of the best clubs in the entire country. With the final ALSO going 3-2 it opened the eyes of a lot of people around the country. Our kids are special! Our kids fight! Our kids grind! And in the end… Our kids hold their heads high because they know that they earned it TOGETHER! I could not be more proud!
While we will lose seniors this year that will absolutely be missed, we return hungry, hard working, kind young ladies who will carry on what we have built! We are #rpmfamily4life