Apex volleyball club 13U team wins Utah Grand Prix
Apex, a Park City girls volleyball club, recently placed first in the Utah Grand Prix through two narrow wins over rival clubs in semifinal and final games.
As a prize, the 13U Amateur Athletic Union team gains free entry into either the union’s West Coast Volleyball Championships in Las Vegas or the Junior National Championship tournament in Orlando, Florida.
However, the girls had a rocky start. The team lost their opening match 25-19 before finding their stride.
“We weren’t really used to that, because our team is pretty great,” Courtney Lemons, 13, said of the team’s initial loss. “That was scary at the beginning, but we started winning.I think at one point we beat a team 25-5.”
Lemons said the blowout helped give the team confidence and momentum, and after adjusting to the absence of a key setter by playing Laken Coulson and Katerina Mantas as stand-in setters, the team went on to win the next 11 games over two days of competition.
The top four teams competing in the 20-team tournament went into the playoffs, where Apex trailed the Utah Thunder of Highland in the semifinal game 13-8 in a set to 15.
“That’s not easy to come back from (in a tournament) using scoring on every point, but (the team) came back to win 16-14 and moved on to the finals,” said Robert “Bobby” Boggs, the team’s head coach. Apex then played in the finals, where the team lost the first game, then won the second 25-10, then again went to a tiebreaker. Apex trailed 14-11, and a single point would have knocked them out. Miraculously, Apex came back again to win 18-16.
“You’re so nervous when it’s happening,” Lemons said. “Sometimes, you’re jumping because you’re so nervous you want them to win, even though you’re (on the sideline). … You’re feeling the same thing.”
The feeling of chemistry brought the team together, Lemons said.
“That comforts you and builds you up, and you can really play well,” she said.
Boggs said the team’s opponent, Central Utah, from Fillmore, had one player with an effective serve technique who scored several points in a row. To beat them, Boggs moved one of the team’s setters back into a passing position, who then helped Apex return the serve, gain possession and eventually win the match.
Boggs said Coulsen and Mantas, who adjusted to win the match, played up to the challenge.
“If they hadn’t stopped that server we wouldn’t be talking about winning the tournament right now,” he said, adding that the comeback nature of the wins were a feather in the team’s collective cap.
“It was not only a cool win,” he said, “But the girls showed composure being able to come back, especially being 13U.”
The 12U team, which had a successful tournament in its own right, stayed and watched the 13U team at Boggs’ request. The younger players stood alongside family and friends as the 13U team came back to win the tournament.
“Once we won, we were all jumping up and down,” Boggs said. “(The 12U players) were our biggest cheerers. It was kind of a bonding moment for the team.”
Lemons said the 12U team rushed the court and hugged the 13U players — “It’s like, when you win, everything just freezes,” she said. “You’re just running in and everyone’s screaming and you’re covering your ears.”
The 12U team entered the 13U tournament in a lower bracket than Apex’s 13U team, but still faced big challenges. Boggs said the age divide between 12U and 13U is a major jump in girls club volleyball, in which there are significant rule changes that make the game more difficult – the ball is heavier in 13U, players can’t serve in front of the service line, the net is higher.
“Which is why not a lot of 12U teams play 13U,” Boggs said, adding that Apex was the only 12U team competing in the tournament. “We have a fourth grader and a fifth grader on the team playing seventh graders, which is a big difference.”
The 12U team beat everyone in their initial pool and went 7-9 overall.
“Next year, when they are in the same 13U tournament, hopefully they will help us repeat winning the Utah Grand Prix,” Boggs said.
The 13U team has not yet decided which tournament it wants to enter – the West Coast Championships in Las Vegas, or the Junior National Championships in Orlando, but whichever they choose, the Utah Grand Prix will pick up the roughly $900 entry tab. Lemons said that, being from Park City, she hopes the team goes to play in Florida, which would let the team fly on a plane together and go swimming in the ocean.
And when it comes down to it, she said the blowouts in the tournament gave the team confidence, but she said she preferred the comebacks.
“That’s just something to really celebrate,” she said. “And if you’re ever losing, you can think that you can do it again.”
Coach Boggs, who Lemons remembers jumping up and down after winning the tournament — higher than she’s ever seen him jump — said next time, he hopes for a slightly larger margin for error.
“It is extra special to win a tournament in overtime 18-16,” he said. “But there are so many factors — a ball in or out by one inch — it is much better to win in two sets versus taking it to the third tie-breaker set.”