West Allis Lightning 18s saved their best for last.
The suburban Milwaukee, Wis., club team did not win a major tournament until it reached the boys’ Junior Nationals in Dallas, Texas.
Prior to nationals, West Allis took third at both the Gateway and Wisconsin Boys’ Festival bid tournaments, was third at the SCVA Junior Boys’ Classic, and placed fifth at the Great Lakes bid event. The third-place showing at Gateway in St. Louis, Mo., earned the team a bid to nationals.
It was a different story for West Allis in the Lone Star state. The Lightning went 10-1 and defeated top-seeded SCVC 18 Quiksilver in three to win the national title.
“We were right there in the mix all season,” said West Allis coach Jake Cosson. “We never came through until nationals. The guys really came together and wanted to fight together for each other. Nationals were their big chance. They realized they could compete with anybody.”
This West Allis group was no stranger to success. As Cosson pointed out, a good chunk of the team won a national title together at the 16s level.
“They were very close as a unit,” he said.
Middle blocker Nick Olson added: “We’ve been playing together since we were real young. A couple of us have been playing together since we were 13. We have a friendship and that helped us play really well together. We felt comfortable playing with each other.”
On the court in Dallas, a couple of time-tested staples put West Allis over the top.
“Without a doubt it was serving and passing,” said Cosson. “We weren’t necessarily the biggest team or the best blocking team. We had to serve teams out of system to make our block seem better than it actually was.”
Trevor Novotny and Mike Michelau led the charge from the service line. “We had a lot of consistency out of the other guys as well, whether we were serving a team out of system or serving at one of their lesser passers,” said Cosson. “We did a good job of serving to spots and serving to people.”
Crosson said that Novotny, libero Adam Kessenich, and substitute Michael Schneck together form “one of the best back rows you could have out there.”
Novotny, an outside hitter, was named the tournament’s MVP. He was joined on the all-tournament team by Peter Hutz, Kessenich, and Olson.
“Without a doubt, Trevor is our leader,” said Cosson. “He’s a silent leader that leads by example. In the first set of the finals, he pulled our guys over and stared them in the eyes and told them we were not losing the match.”
The final against SCVC was West Allis’ sixth three-setter of the tournament. It went 5-1 in three-set matches in Dallas (only loss of the tournament coming against San Juan VBC 18).
Novotny (Loyola-Chicago) is one of many players on the team that will play at the collegiate level this coming season. That list also includes Olson (Loyola), Hutz (Loyola), Josh Kirchner (USC), Kyle Rohde (Lewis), Michelau (Erksine), and Kessenich (St. Ambrose).
West Allis bucked a trend of California teams traditionally dominating at the boys’ club level. Six of the top 10 teams at nationals were from California this year.
“Our goal from day one was to see how we competed with teams from out west,” said Cosson. “We had struggled with teams from the Midwest, but matched up pretty well with teams in California. We didn’t drop a match all year to a California team. That’s pretty impressive.”
Novotny added: “People always say California usually runs the show. It was nice to change things up a bit.”
The 6’10” Olson is happy the team’s hard work and determination paid off at exactly the right moment.
“We kind of got into the groove as the season progressed,” he said. “We knew nationals would be our last tournament together and the last time we play club volleyball together. We wanted to go out with a bang.”
Novotny couldn’t think of a better way to end his club career.
“It was a lot of fun going out on top,” he said. “You couldn’t ask for a better ending and I couldn’t have asked for better teammates and coaches. I can’t thank the coaches and my teammates enough for all the hard work they put in. It all paid off.”
Originally published in November 2012