Walking into the Orange County Convention Center in Florida for the AAU Junior National Volleyball Championships, it became clear to Josi Quam she wasn’t in Kenyon anymore.
Quam and Tessa Erlandson — both incoming juniors at Kenyon-Wanamingo High School — and the Southern Minnesota Volleyball club competed at the junior national championships June 26-29 in Florida and finished third out of 183 teams in the 16U club division.
That wasn’t until after some early-tournament jitters due to the size and scope of the atmosphere, however.
“It was definitely overwhelming,” Quam said.
“The first two days when we started playing I was a little nervous and I think our whole team was nervous. You could tell by how we were playing, but by that third day it got a lot better and everyone felt more comfortable and we started playing better.”
In those first two days, SMV finished 4-2 after entering the junior nationals as the top-tanked team in its division. The team then lost just once in its seven matches over the third and fourth days of the event, with the one defeat a 25-13, 22-25, 15-13 loss in the semifinals.
“I never thought we’d come to the national tournament and place third,” Quam said. “Especially with so many teams and we saw so many good teams there, I’m just so glad we finished third.
“By the third and fourth day we played the best we’ve every played all year.”
Erlandson agreed, and added she thought her team did a good job of handling the pressure of entering as the top-ranked team in the division and still come close to meeting those expectations in such a large tournament.
“We were ranked first, so we were expecting teams to come at us and get our ranking down,” Erlandson said. “We had a lot of pressure on ourselves, but overall we did really well.”
Erlandson also said the entire tournament turned out a lot more fun that she expected it to be.
Quam credited that enjoyment level, and SMV’s improved play as the tournament progressed, to the time they spent together away from the court and Orange County Convention Center.
“I think we got to spend a lot of time together and that really came out on the court,” Quam said. “We came together as a team and we were working better together and everything just came together.”
That’s been a continuation of the summer as a whole, during which Erlandson said she and SMV have been steadily improving and enjoying the more robust tournament schedule compared to last summer.
For Quam, this summer — and especially the junior national tournament — have reminded her the importance of confidence whenever she steps out onto the court.
“For me, just to always have confidence in myself because I sometimes struggle with that,” Quam said. “That really helped when I was playing, because I got very nervous and lost confidence, and you just need that confidence, especially while playing volleyball.”