‘Season of growth’: Kansas City volleyball team wins title at world’s largest tournament

More than 5,000 volleyball teams made their way down to Orlando, Florida, for the annual AAU Junior National Volleyball Championships just under a week ago.

Between those teams, 117,000 athletes and coaches proudly represented all 50 states, Canada Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. They were split into 67 divisions in what event organizers say is the largest volleyball competition in the world.

“The AAU Junior National Volleyball Championships are the premier event for AAU’s largest sport,” AAU president Jo Mirza said in a news release. “Thanks to the incredible relationships we’ve built with our community partners ... this has become one of the best amateur events in the world.”

Of the vast number of teams, Cassie Tate’s “Dynasty 14 Black” was one of them, hailing from Kansas City and set to compete in its first of two national tournaments this postseason.

With her entire roster healthy — a rarity, she explained — they did exactly that. After defeating A5 Volleyball from Georgia, Tate’s 14U squad, a subsection of Dynasty Volleyball as a whole, took home a division championship without so much as losing a game. The team went 12-0.

“For us, this was a big test,” Tate said. “We’ve faced some challenges this season with injuries. We haven’t completed a lot of tournaments with everyone healthy, so it was awesome to see what the girls could do.”

Beyond injuries, Tate’s squad faced early adversity by adding four new players to an otherwise formed roster. Jensen Kubik, Tiana Kinsella, Lily Windberg and Molly McGovern faced the tall order of joining an elite team and fitting in immediately, while the rest of the players were challenged to keep the chemistry together.

Doing so en route to a national title made the win even more special.

“This season has been a season of growth for this team,” Tate said. “Getting to know each other. Team chemistry is a big thing, and we feel like we’re reaching our peak at the right time. The biggest thing I can be proud of is the grit they have — the determination.

”They come to practice every day, and it’s not just a practice for them. It’s another day to get better.”

Over the next three weeks, Tate and company will begin training for their second national tournament, USAV Nationals — a replacement for competing in one less qualifier early in the year — which will send them to Las Vegas in early July.

Dynasty 14 Black plays a game during the AAU’s annual Junior National Volleyball Championships in Orlando, Florida.
Dynasty 14 Black plays a game during the AAU’s annual Junior National Volleyball Championships in Orlando, Florida.

During the undefeated run in Florida, Tate felt her team played strong volleyball for “three-and-a-half out of four days,” leaving room for improvement as the end of their postseason draws nearer. They’ll certainly be focusing on that.

“We feel like this next (tournament) will be more difficult,” Tate said. “The field is a little bit bigger, but this gave us some momentum. ... In these next three weeks, we’ll focus on improving our game. We know we can compete with the best of the best.”

Whether or not they end up competing for a second national title, Tate and her squad already showed what they were capable of as one of the division champions in a field of 5,000.

And they’re excited to represent Kansas City on a big stage once more.

“We’re representing Dynasty,” Tate said. “We’re representing Kansas City volleyball, which is becoming super competitive. So it’s amazing for these young girls.”