Former college volleyball players find competitive outlet in USA Volleyball tournaments

Published 7:12 am Tuesday, March 2, 2004

By By DAN WEISS / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- Every athlete reaches a point in life when the competition is over.
College athletes, in particular, often find themselves searching for somewhere to exercise their competitive nature after their college careers come to an end.
Two local women have found that outlet in USA Volleyball-sanctioned tournaments against other women of similar skill and experience.
Katie Weiss of Niles and Leslie Newcomer of Edwardsburg are two members of the team known as South Bend Connection, which has played in two USA Volleyball Tournaments in the Chicago, Ill., area since the start of 2004.
Weiss is a 1996 graduate of Mishawaka (Ind.) High School and a 2001 graduate of Bethel College in Mishawaka, Ind. Newcomer graduated from Edwardsburg High School in 1999 and from Lake Superior State University in 2003.
Weiss and Newcomer have hooked up with Sarah Benjamin, Julie Reininga, April Russell, Jennie Joyce and Randa Adams, all of Mishawaka, to form a team which plays one tournament per month at the A and AA levels.
Joyce, who is originally from Amarillo, Texas, and played college volleyball at Graceland College in Lamoni, Iowa, was the one who started the team and has taken on the unofficial role of coach and organizer. She also coached at St. Mary's College in South Bend, Ind., and was an assistant coach at Bethel College.
She and Reininga, who is the head coach at Bethel, have played together on such teams for several years and used the connections they have made through volleyball to assemble the team, which has found some early success, finishing second in pool play twice and winning the consolation finals twice.
Reininga, a graduate of Penn High School in Mishawaka, was a senior player at Bethel when Weiss joined the team in the fall of 1996. She then became an assistant coach the following year, when Russell joined the team in the fall of 1997. Russell is a graduate of Northridge High School in Middlebury, Ind., and also played softball at Bethel.
Benjamin is a graduate of Lakeshore High School and played two years at Lake Michigan College before transferring to Bethel College. She is currently a senior at Bethel and completed her athletic career in November of 2003. Benjamin and Newcomer were teammates at Lake Michigan College and have played together in the summers ever since. Benjamin has also coached the junior varsity team at Edwardsburg High School for the last three years.
Adams is a graduate of Mishawaka High School and was a high school teammate of Weiss. She played volleyball at the University of Louisville before coming back to become an assistant coach at St. Mary's College.
The process actually started in the end of 2003 when Joyce and Reininga asked the others to play. Once the members of the team were committed, some had to pay a registration fee to become members of USA Volleyball. Then Joyce took care of registering the team in four tournaments, one each in January, February, March and April.
The South Bend Connection is playing in the Great Lakes Region of USA Volleyball, something Joyce had to petition for. Based on its location, the team should be playing in the Indianapolis Region.
Joyce, however, had played in the Indianapolis Region for several years and her team won the league a few times. Wanting some new competition, and a shorter drive to tournaments, Joyce petitioned to be admitted into the Great Lakes Region.
South Bend Connection is registered as an A team, with only AA being a higher level of competition.
For Benjamin and Newcomer, finding a team to be competitive with was something unexpected but very welcome.
Newcomer was planning on staying active, but did not plan on playing with a team like this.
Both Newcomer and Benjamin were surprised at the level of competitiveness the older members of their team held.
Weiss did not play competitively on an organized team for three years after her college career ended, but jumped at the chance to join this team.
In its first two tournaments, the South Bend Connection placed second in pool play and went on to win the consolation finals. Not bad for a team that practices once a week, at most.
The team practices at Bethel College on Monday and Wednesday nights. With each player having her own schedule of things to do, however, the team only ends up playing together two or three times between tournaments.
That informality can also be something the players enjoy.
Benjamin is the youngest player on the team while Joyce, 35, is the oldest.
The South Bend Connection has not made any solid plans to continue playing next winter, but most of the players are eager for that to happen.