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Tampa produces volleyball standouts

For excellence in girls youth volleyball, nobody puts it all together like the Tampa Bay Juniors.

In addition to its premier team, Tampa Bay Black under-18s, the Tampa-based volleyball club is sending three other teams to the U.S. Junior Olympics Volleyball Championships, which begin Saturday in Orlando.

In fact, the club qualified a second team in the 32-team under-18s Open Division, its Tampa Bay Purple squad. Tampa Bay Juniors is the only club in the country with two teams in the prestigious field.

"We did very well in all the qualifiers we played in and although we didn't earn an automatic berth by finishing in the top three, we got an at-large bid because of our consistency," said Tampa Bay Purple coach Jeff Reavis, whose team is made up of seven recent high school graduates and two seniors-to-be, all but one from Hillsborough or Pinellas counties.

Reavis said recent Tampa Prep graduate and team setter Shirley Smiekel is the team leader, assisted by another Tampa Prep grad, Aimee Boulet. Shannon Cooper of Tarpon Springs has become a solid right side threat, while twin towers Kimberly Zschau and Lindsay Penrose, both 6-foot-1 spikers from Pinellas, are strong in the middle.

In addition to the Tampa Bay Juniors success in the oldest age group, the club is sending its under-16 Black team, coached by University of Tampa coach Chris Catanach, and its under-14s Black team, coached by Melaney O'Carroll.

"We had to play Club Palm Beach in a one-game playoff in order to go to Orlando, but we beat them," O'Carroll said. "Most of my players are 13 or 14 and will be going into ninth grade in the fall. They're not well-known yet, but you will hear from them."

One other local club team, West Coast Volleyball Academy's Under-16 Gold Travel team, qualified for the Junior Olympics in the less-competitive Open Division, the first team in the club's three-year history to go to nationals.

"We're getting better and better all the time," said WCVBA director and under-16 Gold Travel coach Tony Trifonov. "Our first year we had 15 girls and now we're up to 78. As the interest and dedication increases, our results continue to improve. We think we have a pretty good chance for a high finish in the Club Division."