The year was 2014. RPM Sand had been a club for just one full year. This was our first senior class and as we headed out to the AAU National Championships we had no idea what to expect. Our club at this point was very small still. We only had four 18's players with two of them being seniors. As I walked onto the beach that day, I will never forget it. The tournament was massive, players from all over the country with different styles of play, different backgrounds, and different coaches were all there to see who would be crowned champion. This even was held over three days with pool play the first day and then a large single elimination bracket played out over the next two days.
Day one of the tournament went well. Our team battled through pool play to take the top seed. We were very excited for them and had no real expectation for them or even any sort of gague as to where we stood in the volleyball world. All we knew was that they had been working incredibly hard and doing everything we had asked them to do in order to get better. One of them had committed to Pepperdine, and the other was headed to Tulane. As Ryan and I headed back to our hotel that night, we were just incredibly happy to have made the gold bracket and to be able to earn one of the top seeds.
Day two came and the pressure was on. single elimination tournaments mean you have zero room for a slow start, a bad game, or any sort of mental let down. At this point in time, Ryan was doing all of the coaching. I just got to sit back and watch the master at work. Game after game he would form game plans, make adjustments, and find ways to shift momentum. As the day wore on, the girls seemed to gain more and more confidence. The day ended with only 8 teams standing. We were one of them. As we made our way back to the hotel, we were incredibly excited! We had made it to a top 10 finish in the country in just our first full year as a club! who wouldn't be excited about that?
Day three came and the intensity ramped up even more. The very real goal of making it to the title game was becoming more and more clear. The quarterfinal game was a blurr as our team came out and played confident volleyball. As we moved on into the semifinal, it's almost as the girls felt like they belonged in that moment. Instead of stressed looks on their faces we saw determination. Instead of nerves, we saw focus. When the last ball hit the sand and we moved on to the finals, we were excited. I think the moment hadn't really settled in yet. I don't think any of us really realized the fact that we were playing for a national championship.
As the girls took the sand for the final match, a large crowd began to gather and surround the court in Hermosa Beach. People on the strand stopped to take notice. There was a mumble through the crowd but I couldn't quite make out what it was about. The match started and was pretty back and forth. Each team was proving why they had made it to the final. Being that the team we were playing were California locals and RPM Sand was based out of Arizona, we were definitely the underdog and NOT the crowd favorite. I stood next to Ryan as we discussed what the other team was doing, how the pace of the game was going, what we were doing with our strategy, and how we could earn some crucial points at the end if we needed them. As the match wore on it was point for point in the end. All of a sudden the other team rattled off three big points in a row against us to take a two point lead. They needed two points to win and our girls called timeout. Then the master went to work. Ryan had been setting the other team up with his strategy the whole match. He made a couple of simple adjustments and the girls walked back out on the court confident. I couldn't even tell you how the rest of the match went. I was so stressed out. All I know is, that when the ball hit the sand for the last point, both Ryan and I jumped in the air with excitement. We had just won the national championship!
As the medal ceremony commenced, the music played and teams walked up onto the medal stand. they announced each team from third place on up. They said each player's name and club, and where they were from. I will never forget, as the announcer announced our team. "And the 2014 AAU National Champion from... Arizona? RPM Sand's Madalyn Roh and Madeline Mertz." All the rumbling in the crowd then made sense to me as I heard someone say, "See, I told you they were from Arizona." It was an incredible moment. RPM Sand was officially on the map not just in Arizona, but on the national stage as well. What an incredible day!
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