New Polk club volleyball program enjoys ‘remarkable’ debut season
The end of Polk County Middle School’s volleyball season last fall proved just the beginning of a most interesting venture for a group of seventh grade players and parents.
So much did those seventh graders enjoy playing together that they wanted to keep doing so through the winter. But joining one of the area’s travel programs meant a lot of expense, a lot of time and the likelihood that the group wouldn’t be kept together.
So team parents put their heads together, rolled up their sleeves and went to work, forming their own travel team, Polk 13U. They found sponsors, were allowed to use Polk County Middle School’s gym for practices and, most importantly, found a coach, former Polk County High head coach Heather Claussen.
The results were impressive. Playing tournaments from February into April, Polk 13U routinely placed in the top bracket in tournaments they attended, then closed the year with a third-place showing at the Southeast Alliance Volleyball League Championships, going undefeated until a semifinal loss against top clubs from throughout the region.
“It’s pretty remarkable, if you think about it,” said Claussen, who led Polk County to a state playoff semifinal appearance in 2012 before joining the staff at King (Tenn.) University. “They put together a team from one school that ended up third in the tournament against other teams that had players from multiple schools.
“It was a really good experience. I hadn’t coached at the middle school level in a long time, but it was exciting to be able to coach again.”
The team’s success proved exciting for players and parents, who formed their own club administrative unit to handle all of the various tasks required to get Polk 13U up and running.
“The girls said it would be great if they could keep playing together and keep practicing together,” said team parent Renae Dusenbury Waldman. “Some of the girls had done travel teams before, and there are some great programs here, but we knew they wouldn’t get to stay together.
“The parents each took on a role, from registration and certifications of the players to fundraising, uniforms and practice scheduling. It was definitely a group effort and the parents and players all bonded and were all a true team. The community was very supportive as well as the school administrators.”
Though Claussen joined the King program in 2013 and coached there for one season, she never fully cut her ties to the county as her husband, Craig Claussen, continued to teach at Polk County Middle School. Now back in the area and teaching at Chase High School in Forest City, returning to a Polk County volleyball court proved a quick fit for Claussen.
“It kind of felt like home,” she said. “I knew a lot of the girls from when they came through my camps at Polk County. I also coached a couple of their older sisters.
“The girls were great and the parents were great to work with.”
The parents felt the same way about Claussen.
“Our girls didn’t walk away with a first-place championship this first season but they did turn in their ‘unknown’ ranking in exchange for third place,” said parent Kym Bridgeman. “This was a wonderful experience for these young ladies, most who would have had no opportunity to play travel volleyball to do so.
“A circle of friends formed an even tighter bond, they became a team. They shared victory as well as defeat and their knowledge and skills were taken to another level with an awesome coach, Heather Claussen.”
So good was the experience that Waldman said the parents’ group has debated expanding the program to other ages, hoping not only to serve as a model for volleyball but perhaps other sports.
“It would be great if we could get more local travel clubs,” Waldman said. “We would love to expand to other age groups if we have the community support and the coaches and the resources. We would love to keep doing it.”
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