Posted On: 05/9/14 1:45 PM

*Note – My name is Berk Brown, owner of Nebraska Prep Volleyball, and the author of this article. The purpose of this article is to provide a clear, unbiased account of the differences between USA Volleyball (USAV) and Junior Volleyball Association (JVA), which are the two major volleyball club affiliations. In my opinion, there is quite a bit of misinformation “out there” about the pros and cons of each and what exactly the difference is. I also feel it is incredibly important for families to fully understand the differences, as it can impact where they have their daughter train and compete in club volleyball. I personally have two daughters playing club volleyball – one for a JVA club and one for a USAV club. Thus, this article is about the differences between the two organizations and my opinion on each. It should be noted that my opinions on USAV are not representative of USAV clubs with the same being true for JVA.

First, I think it is important to understand how the divide between USAV and JVA came about. It, in essence, began in the 2007 club season. Late in 2006, a group of clubs from across the country came together to form JVA after becoming disenchanted with different elements of USAV. Chief among the concerns was the growing difficulty and expense of qualifying teams to the USAV Junior National Championships – especially in the Open (most competitive) division. Part of that frustration came from USAV’s “Stay-and-Play” policy, which locked teams into certain hotels at pre-established prices for its Qualifiers and National Championships.

That is the cliff notes version of the story. Are there other factors involved – sure there are. But, that was the big reason for the creation of an organization opposite of USAV. So, let’s take a look at the major differences between the two, how it can impact your family/player and what is ultimately the best way to go.

Why don’t JVA and USAV teams play each other?

Again, this is a little bit of a misconception that’s “out there.” The truth is that JVA clubs and USAV clubs do play each other during the season, but it gets a little complicated logistically, and here is why. USAV does not allow you to participate in its tournaments (local tournaments, qualifiers or national championships) unless you are registered with USAV.

JVA, however, does allow USAV teams to play in its tournaments. The reasons behind this are really pretty simple, in my opinion.

USAV knows that JVA is a serious threat to its survival. If USAV were to allow JVA teams the opportunity to compete in its tournaments without being registered with USAV, then the need for USAV is basically dead and USAV has allowed itself to be taken over by JVA.

JVA, on the other hand, is trying to grow and for that reason is more than happy to accept USAV teams into its tournaments. In essence, it gives USAV teams a chance to “dip its toes” into the JVA waters without any additional costs or regulations.

So, to put a local angle on it, clubs and players MUST be registered with USAV in order to compete in the local weekend tournament. Therefore, local JVA-only clubs such as River City and Nebraska Juniors, cannot compete in the local USAV tournaments.

However, JVA teams have a “power league” which serves as its local weekend tournaments. USAV teams are allowed to compete in this league and several do, but several choose not to.

Price

This has nothing to do with the price of each club – which varies drastically, regardless of affiliation. This is simply taking a look at the cost to be a USAV player or a JVA player.

To register with USAV through the Great Plains Region costs a player $63 if they sign-up online and $60 if paying by cash or check for those who are 12 and older. The cost is $25 if you are 11 and under.

There is no cost to register with JVA. However, JVA uses the AAU National Championships as its championship, and to compete at the AAU National Championships, you must register with AAU, which costs a player $14.

Why does a club have to choose between USAV and JVA?

The fact is that they don’t. Clubs can choose to be exclusively USAV or JVA or they can choose to do both. That decision lies solely with the club director.

What clubs do what?

Some clubs are exclusively USAV. Some are exclusively JVA. Some are both. Here is a look at what I believe to be 10 of the largest clubs in Nebraska and what they do.

Nebraska Elite – Plays almost exclusively USAV, but is sending a pair of teams this year to AAU Nationals instead of USAV Nationals.

Nebraska Juniors – Plays exclusively JVA.

Nebraska ONE – Plays exclusively USAV.

VCNebraska – Plays both JVA and USAV.

Nebraska Impact – Plays exclusively USAV.

River City Juniors – Plays exclusively JVA.

Premier – Plays exclusively USAV.

Omaha Wave – Plays both JVA and USAV.

TeamMagic – Plays both JVA and USAV.

Sunset West – Plays exclusively USAV.

If you play JVA, don’t you just play the same teams over and over

I’ve heard this countless times. Here is the truth when it comes to frequency of playing the same teams if you are in JVA or USAV in Nebraska.

It’s the same issue, regardless if you’re playing JVA or USAV. Neither has an advantage here.

The fact is that if you play in the JVA Power League, there are four clubs which supply the largest number of teams: Nebraska Juniors, VCNebraska, River City Juniors and Pentagon (out of Sioux Falls). And, you get occasional competition from other clubs such as Omaha Wave, TeamMagic, G1 from Gretna, Nebraska Redline, Kairos (Sioux Falls), and some Iowa clubs.

The fact is that if you play in the USAV local tournaments, there are four clubs which supply the largest number of teams: Nebraska Elite, Nebraska ONE, Nebraska Impact and Premier. And, you get occasional competition from other clubs such as Omaha Wave, TeamMagic, Nebraska Redline, G1, VCNebraska, Sunset West and some Iowa clubs.

The cold-hard truth is that the issue of playing familiar teams from familiar clubs plagues both the JVA and USAV scene in Nebraska. This, as a parent and fan of volleyball, is the frustrating part because this issue does not need to exist if clubs would figure out a way to coexist for the betterment of everyone. Neither side is completely innocent in this situation.

There is way more travel involved in playing JVA than if you play USAV

Yes, there is more travel involved if you play exclusively JVA than if you play exclusively USAV. Is it WAY more? No. But it is definitely more.

Here is my experience. For a USAV-only club in 2014, you are likely looking at making trips to Denver, Kansas City and Minneapolis and then the weekend tournament circuit is mostly between Omaha and Lincoln.

For a JVA-only club in 2014, you are likely looking at making trips to Wisconsin Dells, Sioux Falls, Houston, Des Moines, Chicago and Orlando. So, you are looking at – in most cases – two extra travel weekends.

However, to be fair, it is important to note that two of the JVA tournaments (Des Moines and Sioux Falls) are two-day tournaments and the rest are the same length as the USAV tournaments (3-4 days). So, the reality is that the amount of days needed to taken off from school and work are pretty much the same.

It is also important to go back to the “Play-and-Stay” situation that exists in USAV but not JVA. When you are forced into certain hotels and set prices you are going to pay more than if you are allowed to stay wherever you want.

So, in a nutshell, you do have more travel with JVA. But, the total cost of that travel is very comparable, but slightly more expensive with JVA.

Does USAV or JVA give my daughter more exposure and a better chance for a scholarship

Hands down, without question, the answer is JVA. If you don’t want to take my word for it, read THIS ARTICLE from last year from one of the most nationally respected volleyball-recruiting experts, Matt Sonnichsen.

Also, consider this. There are a total of 21 known high school volleyball players in the state of Nebraska who have signed or given a verbal agreement to play Division I volleyball. Of that group of 21, one (Dani Root of Waverly/Nebraska Elite) is already at the University of West Virginia. A total of 16 of the remaining 20 are still actively playing club volleyball. Of those 16, a grand total of ZERO will be competing at the USAV National Championships in Minneapolis. All 16 will be playing at the AAU National Championships in Orlando. And that figure does not include River City Juniors’ Iowa State recruit Jess Schaben of Harlan, Iowa, who also is going to AAU.

The reality is that volleyball players are going to get two, three or four times as much exposure to college recruiters and coaches by playing in JVA Open tournaments and the AAU Nationals. This is why Nebraska Elite should be applauded for its decision to pull its top 16s and 17s team out of the USAV bid tournament and instead sending them to AAU Nationals. Why should they be applauded? Because they did what was in the best interest of its athletes.

There is no more important time frame for a volleyball player in the recruiting process than their 16s and 17s (sophomore and junior) years. Nebraska Elite took the steps to ensure that their players would be playing at the highest level in front of as many potential college suitors as possible. By comparison, other clubs kept its top 16s and 17s teams in the bid tournament and they will now be playing in second-tier divisions in Minneapolis in front of, well, hardly anyone. It isn’t difficult to see which players benefit the most from those choices.

Think these things matter when it comes to recruiting? Consider, based on my research, knowledge and information from recruiting websites, that if you go back to the 2010 club season until now, as best we can figure, here are the number of Division I recruits clubs in Nebraska have produced:

Nebraska Juniors – 28 (Exclusively JVA)

Nebraska Elite – 20 (Almost exclusively USAV but will send teams to AAU)

River City Juniors – 8 (Exclusively JVA)

Premier – 4 (Exclusively USAV)

Omaha Starlings – 2 (Exclusively USAV)

And if you simply look at the entire history of clubs in Nebraska, only four have produced a double-digit amount of Division I recruits and they all provide access to the AAU National Championships:

Nebraska Juniors – 59

Nebraska Elite – 48

River City Juniors – 14

Omaha Wave – 11

One final point about exposure for volleyball players. College coaches are going to scour known club hotbeds for talent. So, when you are a club known for developing and producing big-time talent and you put them in a position for maximum exposure, good things are going to happen.

There are two recent examples of how that can pay off for clubs and players. Olivia Nicholson, a 6-foot-1 MH from North Platte, who is easily one of the best 16s in the state, recently joined the Nebraska Juniors 161 team in order to get maximum development and exposure following the completion of the season of her USAV-only club – Flatrock.

Also, Nebraska Elite 171 KO added 6-foot-4 sophomore Eve Vanderneck from Heartland High School for the exact same development and exposure reasons. Vanderneck had been playing at South Central Nebraska for club, but that club was not heading to AAU Nationals.

It’s no coincidence these two volleyball players joined teams that are headed to AAU Nationals in Orlando.

What’s the bottom line

Unless it undergoes a major overhaul, USAV is a sinking ship. JVA/AAU simply offers a superior product with massively fewer regulations and restrictions, which is ultimately what is best for players looking to play at a high school or college level.

This is already becoming obvious to many players/families/clubs in Nebraska. The number of players playing USAV in the Great Plains region dropped significantly – 5.7% – from 2012 to 2013. As the number of USAV players in Nebraska continues to dwindle, the fewer bids to the national championships there will be available and with that, the less exposure players will get.

It is anticipated that a significantly larger number of clubs in Nebraska will test the JVA/AAU waters next year. And, frankly, clubs are foolish not to. Why not take advantage of the best of both worlds while they both exist? Why would a club not want to tell its top teams and players that it is guaranteed to play at the national championships and get maximum exposure? If you stick exclusively to USAV as a club, you cannot make that case to players. And, if I’m a player, do I want to be guaranteed a chance to play on the biggest stage and get maximum exposure or would I rather just hope for that opportunity and potentially be forced to settle for much worse?

Meanwhile, a club like Nebraska Elite, which keeps its options open and places its teams and players in the best possible position, can make that promise. Even JVA exclusive clubs like Nebraska Juniors and River City Juniors can tell their players and families in November of 2014 to plan on playing in Orlando in June of 2015. Whereas, a club solely clinging to USAV, forces its parents and players to wait (in 95% of cases) until the end of the bid tournament in May to find out of they are going to nationals the following month.

Add to that the fact that USAV is hosting its 2015 Junior National Championship in the very un-family-friendly New Orleans, and tell me why, as a player and parent, you would rather wait until May to find out if you get to make a trip to New Orleans in June instead of knowing in November of 2014 that you are going to Orlando in June of 2015? And, by the way, Orlando will give you maximum exposure and you may not get much, if any, playing in National, USA or American divisions in New Orleans.

It should also be pointed out that the AAU National Championship has four levels of play – just like USAV. So, even if your team doesn’t want to play at the highest level (Open) in Orlando, it can still find a division more suited for its situation instead of being forced or tied into one.

My personal opinion is that I would rather get off a sinking boat early so that I’m not around when it sinks or scrambling at the last minute to figure out my exit strategy. Because of that, it is my opinion, based on my experience, that what’s in the best interest of volleyball players and families in Nebraska is being a part of a club that is either exclusively JVA or a club that utilizes opportunities in both JVA and USAV. Anticipation is that within the next 1-3 years, almost all clubs will be either exclusively JVA or utilize both JVA and USAV with a major shift to JVA only over the next 5-10 years. That timeline would be significantly expedited if just one or two of the larger clubs were to opt to go exclusively JVA in the next year or two – which is very possible.

My experience and opinion is that there is no benefit to being exclusively USAV, and nobody wants to put their child in a situation that stunts growth and exposure.