Local NIVA team claims national championshp

Team members Northern Indiana Volleyball Association 17-year-old club based in Elkhart, which captured the national championship at the USAV Nationals in Indianapolis earlier this month.

Standing a little over 5-foot-1, Elkhart Memorial's Jackie Fernandez doesn't look like someone that would get a college athletic scholarship.

But that small stature hasn't stopped Fernandez from working to become a standout volleyball player and pursue her dream to play in college.

Starting at libero, Fernandez helped her Northern Indiana Volleyball Association 17-year-old club team capture the championship at the USAV Nationals, which took place last week in Indianapolis.

Fernandez was one of 10 local girls on that team, which finished with a 9-2 record. Victories came over teams from Texas, Arizona, California, Kentucky and Indiana. 

Fernandez, who has been on the varsity volleyball team at Elkhart Memorial for two years and a starter last year as a backrow specialist, has been involved with NIVA club volleyball for six years

"When I was in elementary school I played every sport," said Fernandez. "I had the most fun and was the best at playing volleyball. During my sixth grade year I was recognized at Elkhart Memorial during Elementary Night. I fell in love with the sport. My mom signed me up with Elkhart Memorial volleyball camp and then I got involved with NIVA. I gave up softball, basketball, lacrosse and track."   

Teammates of Fernandez on the national championship team were Elkhart Central's Michaela Whitaker, NorthWood's Caroline Mullet and Maddy Payne, Penn's Ally Hickey, Bella Phillips and Molly Pooler, Mishawaka's Claire Shide and Hanah Weis and South Bend St. Joseph's Meaghan Madden. 

The team is based out of Elkhart. 

"We practice anywhere we can get gym space," said NIVA club coach Adria Anderson. 

Anderson has been a NIVA coach for 15 years and a NIVA owner for 10 years. She has coached 16, 17 and 18-year olds. 

There are 94 NIVA teams in the state of Indiana, with 23 of those squads being travel teams. Girls from third to 12th grade make up teams from this region, which are within one hour from Elkhart. 

"We have tryouts in November, start practice in December and have matches that start in January," Anderson said. "We finished on (July 5th).

"I told our team in December that they were talented enough to win. I've been in this a long time and I know what a winning team looks like. They just had to buy in and believe it.

"We were so well balanced. Honestly, every single one of our players played their role and contributed. We played our best volleyball as a team this past week. It was the first tournament we won all season. We took some lumps and clicked later in the season and peaked at the right time."

Anderson has seen the interest in club volleyball dramatically rise over the year. With that increase has come better players and tougher competition in the state of Indiana.

"It has definitely grown," Anderson said. "When I took over club there was only 20 teams total. Now it's up to 94. It just keeps getting bigger and bigger.

"Indiana is generally a hotbed for good volleyball. Indiana is known in the club scene for having strong volleyball and talent. One of the top clubs in the country is in Muncie."

There are reasons behind the growth of club volleyball participation.

"It's an easier way to get recruited," Anderson said. "High school volleyball takes place the same time as college volleyball season. College coaches don't have that the time or the budget to see these girls so they go to Indianapolis during the offseason to see 5,000 girls play during the weekend. It's a way to get seen by college coaches and continue to work on your game in the offseason to help improve your game for the high school season. I would say 30-percent of the girls want to get better for their high school team and the other 70-percent want to get better so they can get a scholarship into college. In our area it's hard to make a high school team if you're not on a club team."

Because of the relationship with college recruiting, Anderson expects to have eight girls back next year from the national championship team.

Fernandez is one of those girls that wants to continue playing volleyball after high school. 

"Roosevelt University in Chicago has contacted me," Fernandez said. "I have also talked to someone from Cedarville University in Ohio. I was also informed that Grace College will be notifying me."

"Coach told us that playing club volleyball and going to a lot of places has helped expose us to college coaches."

Fernandez feels she has the support of her high school coach Jacquie Rost when it comes to playing club volleyball.

"I think she really likes us playing club," Fernandez said. "You learn a totally different view of the sport working with other coaches and playing with other girls. It helps us step up our game and prepare us for the high school season.

"I've changed the most as a leader on the court. I'm more vocal now. I'm someone now that teammates can rely on. This coming season I feel like I can help the other girls on the team. 

"When it comes to my play I feel like my serve receive passing has improved the most."

There was little time off on the court for Fernandez after finishing her club volleyball season in early July.

"I got right back at it tomorrow morning for high school summer workouts from 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.," she said on Monday. "It doesn't bother me. I enjoy going. What else would I be doing in the morning."

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