With no public middle school volleyball in Columbia County, many high school teams are forced to bring freshman hopefuls onto the squad with little, if any, on-court experience.
A local volleyball organization, CSRA Heat Volleyball, wants to solve that problem.
Formerly known as the Augusta Junior Olympic Volleyball Club, CSRA Heat Volleyball has been developing into an elite organization for the past four years.
"This club was formed to give middle- and high-school girls an opportunity to participate in Junior Olympic Volleyball," Heat treasurer Susan Amick said.
"Three couples had girls playing, and they decided that it was a worthwhile cause for our girls. They formed a board and gave it some organization to give it more credibility."
Those three couples, Ron and Elaine Cupp, Dave and Camilla Reid and Rob and Martha Bennett, built the foundation for the Heat, which fields several volleyball club teams of various ages each year.
This year, the organization has a new name.
The organization's old name, Augusta Juniors, wasn't an accurate geographic representation of how far and wide the organization extends, Amick said.
"The name change was to better represent that we are a region-wide club with girls participating from all over the CSRA," Amick said. "We have girls playing from other areas besides Augusta."
Lakeside's Kim Newman, Augusta Prep's Nicole Abbott and Richmond Academy's Paige Moretz are three club team members who have excelled at the high school varsity level.
Diana Amick, also a former club member and the daughter of Susan Amick, said she knows the value of club volleyball.
"It's more competitive than high school," Diana Amick said. "If you're not in a good high school program, club ball is the only way you're going to have an opportunity for college coaches to see you."
Club volleyball hasn't always been a priority in Columbia County. When Diana Amick got involved in the sport as a freshman in 2001, high school competition was the first time she had even touched a volleyball. She said as the sport's popularity has grown, so has the competition.
"When I was in high school it wasn't as competitive as it is now," Diana Amick said. "Now if you don't play club, it's going to be tough just to make the varsity team."
Diana Amick served as assistant coach for the organization's 15-and-under squad last year. This season, she hopes to take over as head coach of one of the teams.
Now beginning a new year of competition, CSRA Heat Volleyball will welcome a new face to the club teams. Augusta Prep volleyball coach Rich Bland will join the club as a coach.
Bland, a two-time NCAA Men's Volleyball Champion at UCLA, has led the Lady Cavaliers to four consecutive top-five finishes in the GISA AAA State Tournament.
Bland hopes to bring his success to the CSRA Heat.
"I wanted to help volleyball in the area anyway I can," Bland said. "If you look at Georgia high school volleyball in the eastern part of the state, Columbia County is where the sport is growing the most."
CSRA Heat Volleyball will hold an organizational meeting today at 3 p.m. at the Goodwin Commons at Augusta Prep with new parents required to attend.
Tryouts will follow on the first two Sundays of November. For more information, contact Lance Abbott at (706) 860-8539 or log on to the club's Web site at www.eteamz.active.com/augustajuniors.
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