Melissa junior Susan Blake, 16, had a fine Fourth of July weekend indeed. She and her club teammates came away from USA Volleyball’s Girls’ Junior National Championships in Minneapolis with a second-place finish in their division — no small feat. Only 36 teams out of over 3,600 across the country in this 16U Open division had a chance to compete at these championships.

Blake’s team, Texas Advantage Volleyball 16 Black, rolled to 10 straight wins before being edged by Ohio’s Mintonette Sports in the title match, 17-25, 26-24, 15-13. This was Blake’s fourth time to compete at Nationals and her second year with this team.

“Last year, we had a run like that as well,” she said by phone. “We ended up losing the crossover (game) so we went to the Silver bracket, though we were undefeated except for that one game. That really hurt, so we made sure we had to be on our game for the crossover this year. And we went undefeated into the fourth day, until that last game. It was really an awesome experience being able to make it that far and being in the national championship game.”

She added, “The competition was really tough. We had played pretty much everyone before by going to qualifiers across the nation during the season. I think A5 Mizuno, that was the only team that we hadn’t played before. But we played them last year so we knew what they were. They were all really good teams. We had to play our game every day. We couldn’t let off.”

Blake’s TAV 16 Black squad is coached by Jason Nicholson, who is also head volleyball coach at Lovejoy High School, a program with six state championships on the wall – one on Nicholson’s watch.

“It was definitely a fun week of volleyball, exceptionally good volleyball at that,” Nicholson said by phone.

As for this squad’s achievement?

“Really, it’s about toughness,” he said. “I think we had a team that was definitely capable, but the kids showed a lot of grit throughout the week. We had some adversity pop up here and there but one of the characteristics of the team all year was they had the fight in them. And they definitely showed it on the biggest stage. … It’s definitely something the girls need to be proud of.”

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. Blake flew Minneapolis with family on June 30 and her team’s play ran from July 1-4.

Blake said she thought this experience, getting so close to a title, will be valuable for her — and the Lady Cards — next season.

“I think it will help a lot,” she said. “I hate losing like that. I think it will motivate me and then motivate me to lead our team to make sure we’re working hard, to make sure we’re not in that position again.”

“She had a great tournament,” Nicholson said of Blake. “We’ve got a great group of kids … and I told every one of them that any of them could’ve made the All-Tournament team. Susan was obviously an important piece. She kind of played multiple roles for us. … The kids love her. She not only brings an A+ volleyball game to the table but her personality and kind-heartedness are a big piece to kind of gluing the team together and keeping a bunch of 16-year-old girls on task and having fun.”

Two other Lady Cards competed at these Girls’ Junior National Championships as well: sophomore Caroline Kasson of the Victory 15 Elite Black club and freshman KG Matthews of the Frisco Flyers 14 Rox–Jason club. Matthews’ club finished 5-4, 21st in 14 American Division, and Kasson’s team went 3-6 for 33rd in the 15 USA Division.