TEMPE, Ariz.—Members of the Arizona State volleyball team spent the summer of 2014 honing their skills in preparation for the upcoming season, including incoming junior Mercedes Binns and sophomore Kizzy Willey.
Binns and Willey were chosen to participate in the U.S. Collegiate National Team program, which trained and competed in conjunction with the USA Volleyball Girls’ Junior National Championships from June 22 to July 1 in Minneapolis, Minn.
Overall Thoughts On Competing In Minnesota
WILLEY: Honestly, the more opportunities you have to get reps and improve, the better. I saw Minnesota as an opportunity to be coached by some of the best coaches in the country and to be competing against some of the best players in the country as well. I had an amazing experience and created some lasting friendships with my teammates as well as my coaches.
BINNS: Competing in Minnesota was overall a really fun experience. I learned so much from it and got the chance to play with some amazing players all over the nation.
Favorite Part On The Court
WILLEY: I really enjoyed competing in general. When we got to the convention center and were able to play on center court in front of surrounding grandstands and hundreds of young girls, it was incredible. The energy was amazing and the girls I was able to play with were so much fun. To top it all off, we were able to wear "USA" on our backs and represent our country.
BINNS: My favorite part on the court was definitely the competition. Most of the athletes involved in the camp were from different schools, so it was fun to see everyone come together and compete in their own way.
Favorite Part Off The Court
WILLEY: There are too many to count! That I had the opportunity to spend time and create friendships with girls from all over the country was enjoyable. I loved being able to play and then compete against Mercedes as well as my assistant coach, Linda Hampton-Keith, and create all of those memories on and off the court. As a team, we went to the Mall of America, which was amazing and had some adventures around the city of Minneapolis. The day we moved from our dorm rooms that we stayed in during training to the Hilton for competition was a glorious day. We all fell into our huge beds at the hotel and just laid there for a good 15 minutes just enjoying the simple pleasure of the soft, unlofted, clean bed. I learned quickly that I haven't missed dorm room beds, to say the least.
BINNS: My favorite part off of the court was hanging out with my teammates. I definitely made bonds with my teammates that won't ever be broken. It's amazing how close you can get to people you barely know.
WILLEY: Biggest surprise..... hmmm. I'd have to say I really enjoyed being able to play and compete alongside two U of A players as well as room with one for the duration of our competition (Rachel Rhoades and Veronica Lewis). Rivalries aside, we all had a great time getting to know each other off of the court and learning how to play together. Come season, our loyalty and hearts will no doubt be with our own teams and we will be able to compete as usual but off the court, I had the opportunity to get to know Rache and Rons and I developed a huge respect for them as both players and individuals alike. (NO PITY) ;)
Binns: The biggest surprise for me was actually making the team. I guess it was all so surreal until I landed in Minnesota.
Most Challenging Aspect Of The Trip
WILLEY: Every single day is a challenge. To wake up very early (there was a two hour time difference from Arizona) and be prepared to compete both physically and mentally is tough. Aside from the obvious though, Minnesota was very humid for an Arizona girl and the second day of training we were informed that the gym's A/C was broken. The recurring theme for the duration of training was to "embrace adversity," and that we did.
BINNS: The most challenging part of the training was the practices. Three hour practices, twice a day that we're three hours apart from one another, working hard. In these practices were so many skills that everyone was taught, it was a little frustrating at times.
How The Summer Advanced Their Skills
WILLEY: As I said before, the opportunity to play under the best coaches in the country as well as to be competing against and playing beside some of the best players in the country, definitely helped me improve my own game. Likewise, as a high intensity player, being able to compete in such a high-pressure atmosphere also tested me in my mental toughness as a volleyball player and taught me how to relax and have patience in my game.
BINNS: The camp helped me improve my serve and helped me realize just how much of an option I can be for my team.
What Have They Learned That Will Help Their Fellow Sun Devils To Become Stronger Athletes
WILLEY: Bill Neville (CNT Coach) taught us during training that every great team needs 4 players.... a stud, a leader, a stabilizer, a winner. I truly believe our ASU team has multiple people who fill each of those responsibilities. I think that if we just focus on being great teammates and finding and then fulfilling our own personal responsibilities within the team, we will find success regardless of the opponent.
The Arizona State volleyball team opens the 2014 season at the Chevron Rainbow Wahine Invitational, Aug. 29-31, in Manoa, Hawaii. ASU will play its first home match, an exhibition against Canada’s Mount Royal University, on Thursday, Sept. 4, at 7 p.m. PT.