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Spikefest pushes W.Va. athletes to new levels

Mar. 23, 2013 @ 11:37 PM

HUNTINGTON -- The level of play in volleyball in West Virginia has come a long way since Paul Chinuntdet began coordinating the West Virginia Spikefest Volleyball Tournament at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena in 2005.

When the tournament first started, Chinuntdet, who also co-founded of the Charleston Volleyball Club in 2002, said the club was a lone wolf for volleyball in the region.

"When we started the club, we were the only volleyball club basically in the state," he said. "We, as a state, are not as far behind the rest of the country in volleyball, as far as our level of play. When we started, we were about a decade behind, now, in that regard, we are about three years behind."

Ninety-six teams comprised of more than 1,000 players from West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania, which represent the Ohio Valley Region of USA Volleyball, competed at this weekend's tournament.

Chinuntdet said club volleyball is no different than club basketball, typically played through Amateur Athletic Union-affiliated teams.

Most of the players on the teams are athletes who are stand-outs on their respective school's teams who are taking the opportunity to improve on their personal athleticism for their next season or in hopes of earning college scholarships or even Olympic goals.

He said the progress of club volleyball in the state has been amazing in the past decade, but it simply takes time for the roots to become deep enough to take West Virginia's teams to the next level.

"In West Virginia, it is pretty common for these girls to start playing when they are between 12- and 14-years-old," he said. "However, in this kind of play, the teams they are going up against have girls who have been playing since they were as young as 8-years-old, and, especially in the younger divisions, that makes a lot of difference."

Marshall University Volleyball Head Coach Mitch Jacobs was wearing a similar, but different, coaching hat during the tournament Saturday as his River Cities Thunder Volleyball Club team took to the floor for Spikefest.

He shared Chinuntdet's sentiments about the progress of club volleyball in the state, saying he is eager to see young athletes in the state go to the next level.

"I'm proud of how teams in the state are playing now, but there haven't been any teams to win in a national tournament," said Jacobs. "It's still an exciting time because we've had some close calls, but it is going to take us continuing to do what we can to get the best athletes in the schools to say they want to play at that level. The level of play in the past decade has improved tenfold, but I'd like it to be 100-fold from that point for us to go the next level."

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