Volleyballs filled the air Saturday and Sunday at the Permian Basin Elite Volleyball Qualifier tournament.
A total of 231 age-group club teams playing on 44 courts at 15 locations in Ector and Midland counties participated in the event, which was hosted by the Odessa-based Permian Basin Elite Volleyball Club.
“We’re very honored to host it this year,” Permian Basin Elite’s Linda McMillan said. “It’s the fourth year that we’ve had it here that one of our local clubs has hosted it. 323 hosted it the last three years and we decided our club had grown enough and was large enough to that we could host this event, so we put in a bid for it and got it.”
McMillan, who started Permian Basin Elite Volleyball Clun in 2012 after spending 11 years as head volleyball coach at Odessa High, said preparations for the tournament began before the start of the school year.
“It’s about a five-month process of preparation, just getting all your workers and all the people and getting all the pare work, the scoring materials, pens and pencils and whiteout,” McMillan said after coaching one of Permian Basin Elite’s 13-and-under teams in a pool match Saturday at the Midland County Horseshoe Arena. “We had to order volleyballs for all these courts. We have 44 courts playing Sunday. We had to supply all that. We had to rent the Horseshoe and rent the courts to be brought in.”
Among the volunteer workers McMillan relied on to help put on the tournament were Cristi Hall and Sondra Hubble. Hubble said a big part of the planning involved lining up courts at sites including Greenwood High School, Odessa College and most Ector County ISD middle school and high school campuses.
“We’ve had a lot of cooperation from the school systems,” Hubble said. “We could not have done this without them.”
The tournament drew teams from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Panhandle and El Paso as well as the Permian Basin. Permian Basin Elite had 32 teams competing in age groups from 10-and-under to 18-and-under.
“We’re Permian Basin Elite because we have kids from Wink, Pecos, Monahans, Seminole and Andrews,” McMillan said. “I have kids on my team from Grandfalls and Midland and everywhere. Our 14-and-under has a girl from Hobbs.”
Among the clubs participating was Texas On Point Volleyball of El Paso, which had three of its five teams playing with the 18-and-under team involved in pool play at Permian High School.
“I like the fact that stronger teams from all the regions, not just in El Paso, come to this particular tournament,” Texas On Point coach Job Garcia said. “I like to see a higher level of play, a more difficult level of play.”
Michelle Barron, club director for Texas On Point, said the club’s teams received just that.
“It’s definitely a new experience,” said Barron, whose daughter, Maya Avalos, plays for Texas On Point and El Paso Burges. “It’s not so much the socialization. At this age group, we’re looking for competition, so it’s nice to see (different) styles and of course to network with college scouts who come out to these tournaments.
“It’s nice to see what’s out there, what’s outside (El Paso). We play so many tournaments locally, but you don’t get the same experience unless you’re out. It builds leadership, too.”
Barron added that as a club director, she was also benefiting from being in such a large event.
“Administratively, I’m learning a lot,” she said. “I get to talk to club directors from other teams and I get to meet referees and stuff like that. I’m learning a lot with these tournaments.”
Hannah Page, who plays for Lubbock-based Next Level Volleyball Club, said the tournament’s relatively central location in West Texas allowed several clubs to bring multiple teams in different age groups.
“It’s kind of nice because a lot of our younger teams come here, too, so we get to have more of a family atmosphere,” said Page, a sophomore at Wolfforth Frenship. “A lot of our Next Level teams are here.
“We also get to compete against good teams not far from home. I see a lot of girls we play in district here. It helps learning their tendencies more because you see them repeatedly.”
McMillan started Permian Basin Elite in 2012 and the club has rapidly expanded.
“I do the Little Spikers program at the Boys & Girls Club, so I got started working with kindergarten through sixth graders. I pushed that group of people to join into Permian Basin Elite,” McMillan said. “I have a different philosophy and can debate it with lots of people. We’re not trying to get just the very best athletes. I’m trying to give volleyball to anyone who wants to play. When I coached for 27 years in Odessa, we didn’t have a club program, so when I retired we started it.
“We started with three teams, then we went seven. We went to 19 last year and this year we have 32. Are we all All-American? No, we’re not. But I’m giving kids the opportunity to play volleyball that wouldn’t get it otherwise.”
While most of Permian Basin Elite’s volunteer staff have children in the program — Hall has two daughters playing — Hubble has no family connection.
“I don’t because I have three sons,” Hubble said. “I do it because I want to see the girls develop. We don’t work on just sportsmanship. We work on character, faith and service. We do service projects every month. Every team does. It’s a very service-oriented group.”
McMillan said Permian Basin Elite’s goal is to increase participation in the younger age groups. The club has players as young as 8 years old playing in the 10-and-under age group.
“Some clubs try to keep their number smaller and just have five or six elite teams,” she said. “I want to offer volleyball to kids. Every team’s not going to win a national title. We’re just trying to get kids an opportunity to play and touch a volleyball in the offseason. We just never had that in Odessa and we needed it.”
Each team was guaranteed six pool matches on Saturday, followed by bracket play on Sunday. McMillan said that quickly adds up to a lot of court time for Permian Basin Elite’s 32 teams.
“We try to play two tournaments a month,” she said. “You’re touching a volleyball. You’re getting reps that other people are not doing.”