Times Sports Editor
The Circle City Volleyball Club, based in Indianapolis, has been one of the state's top programs, annually producing colleges with athletes ready to compete at the highest level.
The Circle City 12-Purple team placed second to the Crossroads of America Red Piranha team in regional competition, with each team qualifying for the Junior Olympic Tourney to be played later this week in Texas.
Both teams include a Clay County connection.
Madison McDonald is a member of the Circle City team. She is the daughter of Northview volleyball coach Scott McDonald and is in her first year with the program.
"From a coaching perspective, Circle City is what I would consider one of the top-three volleyball clubs in Indiana, along with Muncianna and Dunes Volleyball Clubs," Scott McDonald said. "Circle City coaches have tremendous amounts of experience in teaching and coaching technique and the fine-tuning of these techniques.
The club has athletes from Roncalli, Indianapolis Cathedral, Avon, and several other schools that are consistently in the state finals and winning state championships," McDonald continued. "These athletes are given training for increasing strength, speed, and jumping ability. The travel is very comparable to other clubs in the area, however, the fact that Circle City coaches do not play against Northview in the sectional is a definite plus for Circle City."
Madison McDonald's coach with the 12-year-old team has a wealth of experience in different clubs in the state as well as out of state and she can boast collegiate experience on her resume as well.
Coach Jill Bakle-Niehoff, who has more than 12 years of volleyball coaching experience, heads the Circle City 12-Purple squad.
This is her second year with Circle City, but she has previously worked for the Fort Wayne Volleyball Club, River City Volleyball Club and Easter Hills Volleyball Club in Cincinnati. Bakle-Niehoff was previously a Division I assistant coach at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI) and East Tennessee State University.
Circle City's path the to Junior Olympic started with a 25-17, 25-17 win over Hoosierland 12-Red in the Regional Qualifier before the COA squad got past them 25-23, 25-22 to win the top regional seed in the Junior Olympics.
Most recently the Circle City 12-Purple team placed third at the Circle City Invite in Indianapolis.
In the seven-team tourney, the squad was the only team to take a set from the victorious Asics Munciana Peppers team that went a perfect 6-0 in pool play. Circle City Purple did extend the Peppers to three sets, winning the first 26-24 before falling 7-25, 9-15. Circle City went 4-2 in the tourney.
The Circle City team, which features players from the Avon, Indianapolis and Greenwood area, also placed fifth in the TI Challenge in Indianapolis, playing in the 13-year-old class. At the CZ Championships in Louisville, Ky., the team placed fifth and were victorious in the Hoosier Mini No. 1 back in January.
With an extensive travel schedule and the chance to play against top competition around the nation, McDonald feels that Madison has enjoyed her experience with Circle City this year and recommends the program as a coach too.
"The opportunity has been nothing but a positive for Madison," said her father. "She has gained so much experience, confidence, and a skill foundation that it was a tremendous opportunity for her. She wanted to go there and see what she could do. As a Dad, I gave her the choice of what she wants to do in terms of athletics. She also plays softball, but volleyball, she feels, is her favorite. She practices three nights a week in Plainfield, which is a little farther than going to Terre Haute."
"I would like to see all of our volleyball players go to Circle City to get training and improve their games for this fact. The club information available is that nearly 90-percent of the kids going through the club receive a scholarship," McDonald added.
McDonald isn't the only Circle City competitor from Clay County as Northview graduate Ashley Hull plays for the Circle City 18-Black team.
The Lakeland College-signee plays on a squad that features three other girls on scholarship and is competing at the National Junior Championships beginning today in Aurora, Ill.
For McDonald, the chance to play in such a prestigious event like the Junior Olympics has been the culmination of a great travel season.
"Madison has enjoyed the season a great deal with all of her traveling and playing good competition every game," her father said. "She has made many new friends and she got to play for a great coach that has coached in college and isn't Dad. She is really looking forward to playing the best teams in the country for 12 and under.
McDonald and her teammates begin Junior Olympics play on Friday in Dallas.