Jorge, Heather Longoria started program after special request from coaches

Abby Koenen (left) and Lexi Hill accidentally bump into each other during warmups last Saturday before the state title match. Both girls are Burlington Elite alumni. Most Lady Demons credit Elite as the reason they’re still playing volleyball. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)

 

By Mike Ramczyk

sports@southernlakesnewspapers.com

Around the mid-2000’s, if you were a kid that was any good at volleyball in Burlington, you were paying an unnecessary price.

Parents coughed up large sums of money and logged tons of miles, sometimes 2-hour round trips, just to allow their kids to play at a competitive level.

That all changed in the summer of 2006, when Burlington volleyball coaches Teri Leach and Dan Lynch approached Jorge and Heather Longoria with a game-changing idea.

What if we allowed these girls to play the game they love without the burdens of money and excessive travel?

The Demon coaches asked the Longorias to start Burlington Elite, a developmental club idea that would keep Burlington talent in Burlington, cutting down on costs and long hours in the car.

Heather Longoria, who has had three girls play volleyball for the Demons, jumped on board immediately, and what started as a conversation in June became reality by October.

“It was a community travel team for kids that didn’t want to make the trip to Milwaukee,” she said Tuesday. “People were driving three times a week to the Milwaukee area. Parents were busy teaching or coaching and didn’t have the time.”

A humble idea that started with three total teams in the first year triple by year two, and at its peak has had 17 teams.

The proof is in the pudding, as all 15 of last weekend’s state volleyball champion players once played for Burlington Elite.

“The idea is that everyone will play,” Longoria said. “We never wanted to keep kids with us too long, so by the time they developed to a certain point, they’d join a bigger club like Wisconsin Juniors or Milwaukee Sting.”

“We wanted them involved and interested, and ready to have skills for the next level, so they can go on to bigger and better things. It’s so important in the younger years to develop those skills.”

 

A lifelong sorority

With the club season lasting from November to April, a lot of help is needed.

With teams from 10U to 14U, many volleyball enthusiasts come on as coaches, including area teachers and even former Demon players.

With guidance from “two of the best coaches in the state,” Longoria said, Karcher and Waller schools were able to provide gym time. She said all they did was buy a ball cart, and each girl bought their own ball.

An initial fee of less than $200 accounted for uniforms and tournament fees.

Coaches ranged from former players like Lauren Pesick, a former player and current boys volleyball assistant coach, and teachers like Julie Gesteland and Jackie Syens, who were able to coach their daughters.

A 501c non-profit organization, Burlington Elite gets help from many former players. It’s that bond and lifelong commitment to volleyball in the city that means the most to Leach.

“They had a ton of great input,” Leach said of the Longorias. “Coaching these kids is about those relationships you build with players and families, the lifelong friendships and support.”

“Elite is for those looking to play more than just in the summer. There’s a lot of volleyball desire, passion and knowledge here, and we wanted to let parents know they didn’t need to spend that money.”

Leach took over the reigns of Elite in 2012, and she and her coaching staff have enjoyed three state titles in the past seven years.

Most of the players through the years stay in touch. Leach said she received as many as 40 texts from former players after the state title victory.

“It’s non-stop,” she said of the constant support. “You build forever friendships.”

Thanks in part to humble beginnings with Elite, these girls are ready to contribute from day one as a freshman, according to current Elite coach Dave Wawrzyniakowski.

 

Teri Leach disagrees with a call last Saturday. Leach took over Burlington Elite in 2012 and has successfully kept her best talent at the high school level. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)

All about fundamentals

An Elite coach for the past five years, Dave coached his daughter Alyssa, who graduated in 2016.

“It’s a very strong youth program to help feed the high school,” Wawrzyniakowski said. “They get a taste of volleyball and fall in love with the game. It’s a great opportunity to teach volleyball consistently, work on skills, and get better.”

“We stress passing, setting, hitting and working together. If you aren’t always working on your fundamentals, you aren’t going to get better.”

Wawrzyniakowski said the 10U teams play a lighter schedule and often introduce the sport to kids who have never touched a volleyball. The early years are meant for building, but by age 14, that competitive spirit starts to show.

“It’s neat to see the progression,” he said. “It’s a great thing. Kids get an opportunity, and you can see by the end of the season how much confidence they’ve gained.”

“When they get something, you can see it in their eyes.”

Longoria said that watching girls that her and her husband helped coach win a state title brought on plenty of emotion.

She said all it takes is a little bit of commitment to these kids, and great things can happen.

“We always wanted all kids to feel like they’re part of the team,” Longoria said.

“To see them play now with the same love they had when they were 12 is an awesome feeling. It doesn’t take money, just people that are committed to make it work.”

 

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