KODA Club volleyball is back and set to revitalize area teams

Submitted Photo of 17U team

SHERBURNE – Another winless season, Sherburne-Earlville’s volleyball program has struggled during their winter season over the past two years. One would say that the only way to go is up, right?

“The road to success will not be an easy one. It will be filled with blood, sweat and tears. If you come in to practice each and everyday and give 100 percent effort, 100 percent of the time I will give you the tools and knowledge to become the best player that you can possibly be,” reads a paragraph on the KODA Club volleyball website.

KODA Club, where does the name come from? Well according to co-head coach Julie Bigger, the name originated from the Native American word of Koda– which means friend or companion.

What is better in life than a friend, who will lay it all out on the line for you in high school sports. Those friendships more often than not, blossom into lifelong friendships – that mentality is what the KODA Club brings to the table in an effort to help Chenango County volleyball.

And just like that, KODA Club volleyball has returned to the Chenango County area, as of this past February – due to the time, hard work, and dedication that co-head coach Julie Bigger has put in to the program to get it started once again.

“I went to watch my friends kids play volleyball for the S-E team. I felt really bad for them (S-E), because neither the varsity or junior varsity team’s won any matches this year. I said to myself ‘I have gotta do something to help these kids.’ I serve on the Board of Education, and I didn’t know who was coaching (S-E varsity volleyball) next year, and I definitely didn’t want to wait until those girls are seniors to start working with them,” said Bigger.

Bigger, a 1989 graduate of Sherburne High School, brings her years of volleyball experiences to the table – in an outright attempt to try to truly kickstart the volleyball culture in the S-E area, as well as surrounding areas.

“When I was a senior, we were undefeated 22-0, we dropped like one game before losing in the divisional finals. My junior year we did just as well, I think losing in the sectional finals. After I graduated from S-E, I went on to play DI volleyball at the University of Vermont, and then basically started coaching in Morrisville High School a couple years after that. Then started coaching camps all around, then volunteer coached at Hamilton College, traveled all over coaching at camps and getting better and realizing ‘hey I could make a living out of this’,” said Bigger. “I applied all over and got my job at Carnegie Mellon and was there for nine years. I have a lot of accolades from there, I coached an All-American, I was conference coach of the year three times. I had tons of great players walk through my door and get better. I had six ECAC titles, went to the NCAA tournament once. I used to be a collegiate coach, and I really feel I have something to give back to these kids, and help them get better. We didn’t just start it to have it (KODA Club) for one year and have it disappear.”

Bigger has recruited the help of her KODA Club coach, back from her high school days – Wil Curtis. Between Bigger and Curtis – the coaching duo got the word out, gathered the funds and equipment, filled out the paperwork, and began the long and tedious process of creating and maintaining a club-level sport.

“This was all in February (2017). Normally the club season (volleyball) starts in January. Most clubs have tryouts, and practices and funds to work with. But because we started in February, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do it,” said Bigger. “So I talked with a regional rep from USA volleyball. I asked if it was too late. She said it is never too late to start a club, so I decided to do it. I did all the paperwork, there was a mountain of paperwork. Then I reached out to find out if I had enough interest to do it. We got the word out in our school and in Unadilla Valley. We went with it and got about 19-20 kids to start with, and ended with 17.”

17 dedicated, student-athletes came out for the inaugural season of the new KODA Club volleyball team – and stuck with it, despite some growing pains due in part to a shortened season.

The group of 17 girls were divided into a 17U and 14U squad – with nine on the 17U team and eight on the 14U team.

“It (club volleyball) operates the same as club basketball. We can go to regional tournaments, and generally that is how it would work – a local one day tournament. There are clubs and tournaments all over the country,” said Bigger. “When I used to coach at Carnegie Mellon, I used to go recruit kids at those tournaments in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and so on. Since we got started so late, all those local tournaments were filled. With the exception of regionals, so we did go play at the regional tournament.”

At the regional tournament, the 14U squad, which played at Cobleskill the last weekend in March – Katie Turner, Katie Keyes, Allison Smith,Tessa Westcott, Zoe Kellogg, Gabby Collins, Morgan Boldt, and Allison Henry – fared much better than their senior counterparts.

“The 14s did pretty good, they were middle of the pack. Third in their pool, third in their pool, won a playoff game, then lost a nail-biter. So they were pretty competitive at regionals,” said Bigger.

The 17U team, which traveled to Watertown the first weekend in April – Emma Baker, Vanessa Doing, Cheznie Lounsbury, Abbie Eaves, Paige Losee, Katrina Jackson, Erin Brooks, and Jasmine Scarboro – earned their first match win at regionals.

The saying goes, success breeds more success.

“They (17U) won one game over the whole weekend. They basically played at the 18 year old level and those girls have been playing club their entire lives so considering that we had only been together for two months. I thought they did okay, obviously we knew we needed to do a lot to improve,” said Bigger.

Due to missing out on all the local and semi-local weekend tournaments – save regionals – the two club’s culminated their season by taking a trip to Penn State late in March. This three-day tournament proved to show the two squads just how much work has to be done to improve their play as they head into their regular season – come the winter of 2017-2018.

“The competition was very good, it takes a lot of time, patience, and practice to raise your level of play. It doesn’t happen over night, and the people that were there have been playing for years. It was a good experience for them,” said Bigger.

The goal now, fundraise as much as possible while attracting more student-athletes who are wishing to improve their volleyball skills.

“We want kids from everywhere, anybody is welcome. We want kids from Norwich, Oxford, Unadilla Valley, Sherburne-Earlville, Otselic Valley, Bainbridge-Guilford, Hamilton, Morrisville. Anybody that wants to play, tryouts will hopefully be next January. We have to get an actual team together so we can sign up for all the local one day tournaments,” said Bigger. “We’ll need a budget of $10,000 at the very least. Will and I aren’t getting paid, we are just volunteers, that is how much we love the sport and how much we want to help these kids out. And help give them the experiences we had when we were younger, while improving, getting better, and winning. We’ll get there.”

The KODA Club girls have been busy thus far trying to meet that lofty goal – coming off a recent weekend when they parked cars for the Sherburne Pageant of Bands Festival.

It doesn’t stop there for these girls and their coaching staff.

KODA Club will be hosting a painting party at Mountain Top Golf Course, on June 15, hosting a golf scramble (Captain and Crew) at Mountain Top Golf Course, on July 9, – all while planning an outdoor volleyball tournament which will be held at S-E High School in July.

The club is also having an ongoing fundraiser called ‘Buy out the ball sponsorship’, where the goal is to have 50 balls bought for the club by the time the season rolls around – in exchange you receive a small thank you and gifts.

“I am trying to keep the expenses for the kids as low as possible,” said Bigger. “We are fund raising tremendously now. I just have to keep it in perspective, it just takes time.”

If you are interested in joining KODA Club, or participating in one of their many fundraisers – all the specific information can be found on their website at: www.kodaclub.com/

“We played in the three tournaments, I can’t tell you how much these kids have improved. It is just not quite enough yet, we’ll get there,” said Bigger, who notably has applied to fill the currently vacant spot for the varsity volleyball coach at S-E. “I am just trying to make volleyball positive for these kids. The first game that the 17s won at regionals, I just started sobbing. It was the very last game they could possibly win. I put this burden on myself, because these parents put their trust in me to do well with their kids. And I just want it for them, and if we can get more kids, the more competitive it will be.”

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