ANNA – Anna senior Taylor Medrick and her family departed at 10 p.m. on June 28 for a 14-hour drive to Minnesota to join members of Medrick’s club volleyball team. The occasion? The 38th annual USA Volleyball Girls’ Junior National Championships in Minneapolis.

For Medrick, a starter on the Anna Lady Coyotes’ varsity squad, this was her first time to compete at Nationals.

“I’m excited and nervous,” she said hours before hitting the road. “It’s kind of a stressful opportunity, but I think we’re going to come out strong.”

Medrick’s Sherman-based team, the Summit North 17s, is coached by Anna’s Ed Garza who is also head volleyball coach at Austin College.

“The kids travel all over the United States to qualify to participate (in this tournament),” Garza said by phone from Minneapolis. Garza has lived in Anna for the past 11 years while coaching in Sherman.

“It’s been a good gig,” he said, “and I’ve really liked living in Anna too.”

The Girls’ Junior National Championships include seven age groups, from 11 to 17, and each group consists of multiple divisions. This year’s event is estimated to have attracted 41,000 players and coaches from across the country.

On Garza’s team with Medrick were players from Sherman, Denison, Bonham, Commerce and Lindsay.

“It’s a nice little team,” he said. “It’s been real fun teaching them. A couple of these kids are going to be going on and playing in college.”

Garza has been involved with the USA Volleyball National Championships for 18 years and has been coaching club volleyball for over 25. He’s had 17 teams qualify for this tournament.

Tomika Crosby is Medrick’s head coach at Anna.

“I’m excited for her, she’s excited,” Crosby said before Medrick departed. “It’s a great honor. When I talked to Ed Garza, he told me how developed a player she’s become. … I told her, ‘The more you play with those advanced players, the better you’re going to get.’”

Crosby said Medrick has become a Lady Coyotes team leader.

“She’s scheduled some open gyms for the girls to get in there and work together,” she said. “She has really shown herself to be a leader. She’s stepped up. Just to think that this past season, she started out on JV. … I moved her up for a tournament, just to help us out for that tournament, and we haven’t looked back since. She was determined to stay there.”

After a 1-3 start on Day 1 of the tournament, Medrick and her Summit North 17s teammates rallied to a 7-2 mark over the final three days to finish at the top of their six-team bracket, 30th out of 70 teams in their division.

“It was a very tough day the first day,” Garza said. “Two of the teams we played finished in the top eight in the tournament. … They improved, they all got better, especially (Medrick). She started doing things she hadn’t done before. It was exciting to see her run slides and hit the ball a certain way and get more confidence playing well. … These kids started out ranked 76th in the North Texas region (out of 100-plus teams) and they finished 23rd, so we really improved over the whole season.”

Garza noted that there are now 12 Anna athletes and 17 Melissa athletes playing girls’ club volleyball.

“I have a feeling this number will be increasing next year,” he said.

While rolling through Iowa on her trip home, July 3, Medrick reported on her time up north.

“It was a really good experience,” she said. “I had fun with my team. … At first, it was kind of what I expected. We didn’t really show up how we wanted to that first day, even though the competition was pretty easy. But overall, the competition was pretty good.”

Medrick noted what she’d learned at Nationals: “You always have to stay up, you have to keep the momentum and you have to keep the energy. If one person starts to fall, it starts to bring the whole team down. And once that happens, we lose our momentum, we kind of lose the want as a team to win. Everybody has to want to win equally in order to get up there and get those points.”