May 23, 2012
Former UC Davis student-athletes Betsy Sedlak and Carson Lowden plus current Aggie assistant coach Addie Hauschild-Willis will compete in the inaugural Premier Volleyball League during the upcoming Memorial Day Weekend. The league championship takes place in conjunction with the USA Volleyball open championships at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah from May 26-29.
All three Aggies are members of Dream Team NCVA, one of 12 regions with league entries. Other teams hail from the Florida, Intermountain, Iowa, Puget Sound, Arizona, North Texas, New England, Western Empire, Great Lakes, Hoosier and Evergreen regions. The Northern California squad ran tryouts in Stockton during late March and early April, the competed in exhibition play at the NCVA Far Western National Qualifier in Reno during late April. The Dream Team cut its roster to the final 12 players, which includes the three UC Davis connections.
The new PVL, sanctioned by USA Volleyball, consists of tournament play and a league championship. Inspired loosely on the existing High Performance program at USAV's regional level, the PVL will have the "look and feel" of a professional league, according to the organization's January launch announcement. Future play will take place at the various USAV Junior National Qualifiers and Junior National Championship events, mostly to ensure target-rich environments for audiences.
Hauschild-Willis, who earned first-team AVCA All-Region and All-Big West Conference accolades at Pacific, played for the Minnesota Chill of the U.S. Professional Volleyball League. Roughly a decade later, Hauschild-Willis finds herself as one of just a handful of players from the old USPV to participate in the new league. She commends USA Volleyball for the business model under which the new "grass roots" league is organized.
"USA Volleyball has a really good background in targeting age groups," she said. "Bringing the game to where the juniors are is great exposure. And it motivates them because they're already in tournaments. So while they're playing, they can stop by and see a professional game in the same venue. It can only inspire them."
Both Sedlak and Lowden rate among the Aggies standouts in the Division I era. Sedlak wrapped up her UC Davis career last fall, earning first-team All-Big West Conference honors for a second consecutive season. She set a school record with a .336 career hitting percentage while her three-year total of 393 blocks ranks second in program history. Lowden was a three-year Aggie starter as a setter from 2006 through 2009. She finished her career with 1,156 assists, fifth in UC Davis history.
"I am so excited and I feel really lucky because I didn't find out about it until later," said Sedlak. "I saw an email and started talking to Addie and that's how it got rolling. We've been practicing and it has been so much fun. I'm looking forward to seeing the other teams from around the nation."
Hauschild-Willis is also grateful for this second chance in her playing career. "I feel very fortunate that this opportunity has come along. I feel fortunate in that I've been able to stay in volleyball as a career, but I also feel like that is a choice. Some people choose to take themselves out of the game and have stayed away as far as possible. I feel like volleyball has chosen me. So my way of giving back is showing young players that when life changes in the future, and you get married and have families, that you can still do it. You don't have to take yourself out of the game just because life happens. Volleyball makes me happy. It would almost be a disservice to my family to not play because it would always be a `what if.'"
Hauschild-Willis claims the mental edge of a competitive player never left her, and it was relatively easy to summon in returning to the game. Thus, the physical aspect of getting in competitive playing shape has been her primary focus in preparing for the league championship. Setting an example for the younger players has motivated Hauschild-Willis in her return. "After 10 years removed from playing in a professional league that I'm going in and representing the game well. I want to represent Davis well. I don't want to look like I'm an alum hanging onto the glory days. No, you can have a family and a career and still be in shape. There's no reason you can't."
As a middle blocker for the Aggies, Sedlak worked particularly close with Hauschild-Willis and even squared off against the Tiger Hall of Famer in practice. Nonetheless, she remains impressed with her former coach's volleyball prowess. "When we were in Reno, I was coaching and I missed a lot of our warmups," Sedlak recalls. "As soon as I got there, I saw someone get up and just throw the ball straight down during warmups. I thought, `who was that?' It was Addie. She had played with us in practice before but she has really turned it on to play for this league."
"It's so cool to be playing with Carson again and especially with Addie, who has been a coach and mentor to me for so long. Getting to play alongside her is amazing. As a coach, she's always talking about what to do. But to see her do it on the court is really cool."
Sedlak and Hauschild-Willis will help UC Davis fans follow their experiences at the PVL in the form of regular video blogs. To access the Aggies' chronicles from Salt Lake City, visit the women's volleyball team's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/UCDavisVolleyball.
Results of the tournament can be found at www.advancedeventsystems.com. The Dream Team NCVA will face Team Evergreen and Utah Unity on Saturday, take on Western Empire and Hoosier Exterminators on Sunday, then wrap up pool play against the Arizona Sizzle on Sunday morning. The teams enter championship bracket play on Sunday evening and continue through Monday.