This summer, Jordi Nix and Emilee Harris are participating with the USA Volleyball High Performance Invitational Team — a pipeline to the U.S. Olympic team.
Nix, a rising sophomore who is home-schooled, is participating for the third straight summer. She got her start in volleyball five years ago, when she was 12, at a camp conducted by Kelly Audia, the former Sequoyah coach who now serves as an assistant at Clemson. Last year, she was a member of the Crown Athletics volleyball team, but that program no longer exists.
Nix will now play for Johnson Ferry Christian Academy in east Cobb.
Harris, a rising freshman who will attend Woodstock, is a part of the USA Volleyball program for a second year. She started playing volleyball two years ago.
Nix and Harris will train in their respective age divisions for a week or two this month in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The emphasis is on training players in the style of USA Volleyball, and learning the international rules of the game. Each age group consists of several tiers, with the top tiers consisting of only about a dozen players.
Nix and Harris weren’t available for interviews as they train in Colorado, but Nix’s mother, Cristine, said “it’s pretty competitive.”
“They are trying to get girls who want to play for the USA national team, the Olympic team, and that sort of stuff,” Cristine Nix. “(Jordi) and Emilee are going this because they want to play with USA Volleyball.”
Jordi Nix is a part of the Youth A2 level this year, after participating in A3 the previous two summers. Harris is a part of the Girls Select A2.
The division each girl competes in — Future Select, Select, Youth, and Junior — is based on age. The tier — Skills, A3, A2, Continental, A1 and National Team — is determined at tryouts, which are held each year between January and April. The qualifiers are often held in conjunction with a club volleyball event.
The goal of the USA Volleyball high performance age-group classifications is to group athletes of similar ages and skill sets. They work on a two-year cycle, beginning on an even year. Athletes remain in the same age group through two years before moving up to the next age group to start a new cycle at the beginning of the next even year.
The two-year cycles match the international competition schedule in which Team USA competes.
Keeping athletes in the same age group for two years allows them to move through the ranks together and compete at each stage of international competition. Tryouts are held each year to work new athletes into the program.
Players in the top tiers often have the opportunity to travel internationally for competition. One group went to Costa Rica this summer, while Nix has already signed on to go on a European tour to Greece over Christmas.
Katie Creger, who graduated from Creekview in May, has also been a part of USA Volleyball as a member of the Women’s Junior group. She will continue her career this fall at UNC Asheville.
Cristine Nix admits the south isn’t a hotbed for volleyball talent.
“Most of these girls come from up north or out west, or from California or Texas,” Nix said. “For three of them to be from Cherokee County is very impressive. The makeup of these rosters is concentrated in areas that are big volleyball players.”
Still, Nix said she will do whatever she can to help her daughter follow her dream.
“She wants to play Olympic volleyball, but she also wants to play internationally,” Nix said. “This is her foot in the door to play professionally.”
After high school, Jordi Nix and Harris plan to play in college, with the hope of joining the professional ranks. They are using the Performance Academy, along with the club teams, to gain exposure and draw attention from college scouts.
“Jordi only plays high school because, for eight weeks in the fall, all the clinics and club teams end,” Cristine Nix said. “We don’t want her to go without volleyball for eight weeks. We pay for private lessons for her, but, sometimes, playing games is a little bit better for you.”