More than 100 years ago, a YMCA instructor combined some aspects of basketball, baseball, tennis and handball to create an indoor game for the classes he conducted for local businessmen. Soon after during an exhibition, someone remarked how the players seemed to be volleying the ball back and forth over the net.
The game of volleyball was created, and how it has changed since 1895. According to Volleyball World Wide, the American-born sport now ranks only behind soccer in team sports.
Of the 800 million players worldwide, 46 million can be found in the U.S. Games are played at church picnics and city recreational leagues, all the way to the collegiate courts and even the Summer Olympics.
To make it to the upper echelon takes a lot of practice and expert coaching. That is where the Mobile Storm volleyball club comes in.
“We basically train all different levels,” said Nicole Keshock, founder and director of the club. “We go from beginners, to those real serious about playing in college.”
Keshock knows what it takes to reach these heights. Originally from Ohio, she played at Bowling Green State University. A four-year letter winner, she helped the Falcons to a pair of Mid-American Conference titles and a berth in the 1991 NCAA Tournament. Keshock also established a tournament record for most blocks in the National Invitational Volleyball Championships.
After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees from BGSU, Keshock began her coaching career at Heidelberg College, University of Findlay and Eastern Michigan. She then ventured south, helping to start the women’s program at the University of West Florida.
After three years in Pensacola, Keshock crossed the state-line to become the head coach at the University of South Alabama. She held that post for nine seasons.
Keshock first trained younger athletes with a club in Pensacola. She carried the idea with her, and created the Mobile Storm in 2006.
“It was only four teams that year,” she said. “This year, we will have 20 teams. We have girls from Mobile and Baldwin counties, plus from Mississippi. They range in ages from 4 to 18. It is important to give girls a place to play, and an opportunity to play. Club teams can do this.”
The girls are divided into 10-player teams, which are based on skill levels. Keshock said it is similar to the AAU basketball programs found throughout the U.S.
“With our elite teams, the girls travel all over the country to compete,” Keshock said. “They can get great exposure from the college coaches.”
The Storm just sent three teams to a tournament in Denver. Other recent trips have been to Orlando plus tourneys in Tennessee, Texas and Kentucky.
The results speak for themselves. Among the stars for the Storm is Blake Mohler of Ocean Springs, Miss., who has verbally committed to play at Purdue University. The Indiana school is considered to be among the 10 best college volleyball teams.
“Blake plays for Ocean Springs High,” Keshock said, “but we train out of their high school season. We start when high school ends, say around mid-November, and go to the end of May.”
Members of the Storm who have signed to play in college are Shelley Spires, U.S. Air Force Academy; Autumn Trimble, Alabama State; and Victoria Young, Alabama-Birmingham. Others who have verbally committed are Morgan Dulaney, Lynn University; and Elizabeth Hurring, Tulane.
“We hire the top coaches in the area,” Keshock said. “Some of them coached in college now or in the past.”
Serving as head coach is Ritchie Dulaney, a McGill-Toolen Catholic High School graduate who helped the Yellow Jackets collect state titles in volleyball (three), basketball (two) and track while also playing tennis. At the University of Missouri, she was all-conference three times. Dulaney, who holds a doctorate degree, was head coach at South Alabama for six seasons and at Faulkner State Community College for 18 years.
Other members of the coaching staff are Lisa Marston, a former head coach at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte; Jennifer Lovvorn-Harris, a St. Paul’s Episcopal star who went on to earn All-SEC honors at the University of Alabama; Cameron Craker, a 16-year coaching veteran who led the Storm’s 16 Power team to the 2013 Gulf Coast Region Championship; and Kari Frazier, the first player from Baker High to earn a Division I volleyball scholarship and who went on to play at South Alabama.
Frazier is also the varsity coach at Saraland High School. Other coaches on the staff who work at area high schools are Kevin Frazier, Daphne; Edoli Herrion, Daphne; Carolyn Houston, Baker; Jacquie Dooley, Faith; Carly Dougherty, Murphy; and Tammy Richardson, St. Luke’s.
“Tammy used to be in Birmingham, and is the winningest coach in Alabama,” Keshock said. “We were fortunate to get her.”
While the elite teams may grab the most attention, the Mobile Storm is open to all levels of play.
“My most enjoyable group is the Volley Tots, who are ages 5 to 8,” Keshock said. “For them it is 50 percent volleyball and 50 percent games. It gets them to exercise, and they have been a great group this year.”
Keshock said their club does very little advertising to attract students.
“Our reputation has helped us to continue to grow,” she said. “We do a lot of summer camps, and that gets the word out.”
This expansion propelled the Storm to move into its own facility several months ago. The building is located at 65 Sidney Phillips Drive, just off Old Shell Road and Interstate 65.
“We are the only club in the Gulf Coast Region with our own training facility,” Keshock said. “We have 22,000 square feet, which includes three training courts and a warm-up court area.”
Also included at the location is a Parisi Speed School franchise, an industry leader in performance enhancement since 1992.
“With the volleyball side and the physical fitness side, we can offer a lot,” said Keshock, who has even bigger plans for her club. She hopes to continue the recent momentum, and host a national tournament next year.
“We have played in a lot of convention centers, and none are as nice as the one in Mobile,” she said. “Most are in the middle of a city, with no view. Ours is on the river and it is gorgeous. It will be a perfect place.”
She said the Mobile Convention Center can host 14 courts. The Storm would try and bring in teams from throughout the United States.
“Volleyball was much bigger where I grew up,” she said. “It is getting better here, and I believe it will continue to do so. I absolutely love coaching the Mobile Storm. It is what I was meant to be doing.”
For more information on the club, visit www.ballcharts.com/mobilestormvball, or call 251-709-9943.