JACKSON TWP. Varsity volleyball takes a break, but volleyball itself rarely does for Sarah Benson.
The Jackson senior doesn’t practice or play with her high school teammates year round, but she’s on the volleyball court consistently no matter the time of year and a recent trip to Minnesota with her travel team was the latest example of how much the sport is a part of her life.
Her team, Nova Juniors, features three Jackson players and others from Akron, Stow and a few other local communities. The Minnesota trip, just before the Fourth of July, came shortly ahead of the start of the preseason for Jackson and having the chance to play competitive volleyball over the summer is valuable for her development as a player and in her preparations for the varsity season.
“It’s extremely beneficial to be able to play in a game setting year round and not just have practices at times,” Benson said. “It’s nice to go to tournaments all around the country.”
For the Minneapolis tournament, Benson and her team lost their first game, but rebounded to win their next two against foes from other states. With a pair of Jackson teammates on the roster, there’s a bit of comfort and familiarity for Benson, but she’s been a part of the same travel team since the eighth grade.
When she first started with the team, it was known as Extreme, but prior to her sophomore year, the team’s coaches left to establish their own program and Benson followed, joining the newly created Nova Juniors.
Tryouts for Nova Juniors typically take place a few days after the OHSAA state tournament in November, leaving little time to relax for players whose school teams make deep runs in the postseason. Jackson, which has made multiple state tournament runs in recent years, fell just short last fall, but Benson quickly transitioned to her club team.
Practices began in December and tournaments started in January, meaning that time off from volleyball came mostly around the holidays, but once travel tournaments began, they kept going for several months.
The trip to Minnesota wasn’t all volleyball. As with most tournament to which they travel, Benson and her teammates found fun activities to do away from the court. The second day of the trip, they visited the massive Mall of America, known for its hundreds of stores, indoor attractions and sheer size.
“Depending on how much time we have, we like to try to go out to dinner or go explore the city,” Benson said.
Many players on the travel circuit have the same goal of impressing college coaches and improving their chances for a scholarship. That can make for an intense atmosphere and even within a team, players from different schools who only play together in club competition could be rivals when it comes to earning college coaches’ attention.
Still, the goal of getting ready for the upcoming varsity season is still on Benson’s mind even as she boards planes for trips elsewhere in the country.
“We have workouts every Tuesday and Thursday for a few weeks, so I’m looking forward to that,” she said of her varsity volleyball obligations over the summer.
One commonality between the two teams is Benson’s position. She plays setter for both squads and being able to stay in the same spot on the floor allows for a certain comfort level and continuity. Benson hopes to play on the college level and having a defined position for both of her teams allows her to focus all of her energy on setting.
As the club season winds down and the varsity season nears, the goal of chasing the first state championship in state history is once again on the agenda. Benson and her fellow seniors have been a part of previous teams that have gotten close, but so far, Jackson hasn’t been able to reach the top of the Division I ranks in Ohio.
This year’s state tournament is still months away, but when it comes to trying to be the best team in the state, every practice, set, game and tournament offers a chance to improve and move in the right direction.
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