When Cynthia Barboza graduated from Stanford University, she had one full additional season of practice and playing experience than most college volleyball players. The NCAA Final Four is about one month after the end of the regular season. Add one month per year Cynthia played (4 years) and that equates to 4 extra months. The typical collegiate season lasts 3 months (September through November). This extra experience at a high level of play, helps the best to get better.
In South Carolina, the USAV Palmetto Region for juniors, typically starts after the high school season, sometime mid-November. The Palmetto Region Championship usually takes place just after the Big South Tournament in Atlanta, about mid-April. After the Region Championship, indoor volleyball seems to fade away in the region until summer camps. There are a few elite teams that practice and play through USAV Nationals in July, but those elite teams are not playing in tournaments at the same intensity as those from larger, more successful regions. Local competition and tournaments are just not available in those spring time months.
Players in regions of Chicago and Minneapolis, regions that are already great, continue to get better through competitive practices and tournaments. For 2 additional months per year (May and June) over a four year period, that’s over a half a year’s experience those best players are getting.
If you look further at our elite athletes, on the USA High Performance or the top elite athletes, on the USA Junior National Team, they train at a higher level for more time out of the year. In addition, they are getting international match experience that is invaluable, especially when it comes to playing in front of a packed arena in say, Nebraska (2008 Final Four – Penn State vs. Nebraska). Megan Hodge did okay there 😉
People wonder why some teams or some regions perpetually struggle while others are perpetually great. I think playing experience and the culture in which one grows-up is one of the piece of the puzzle.