Jenny Gilley and Sherry Whitehead had been taking their daughters to Plainfield to practice for Circle City Volleyball Club.

Heidi Kleffman was shuttling her daughter to Louisville to play club volleyball.

The three families are no longer making those trips multiple times a week. They found a better option in Columbus with the start of the Columbus Volleyball Academy this summer.

“I feel like it’s a really great opportunity for me and my family,” said Stella Kleffman, an eighth-grader at White Creek Lutheran. “It gives me more educational opportunities, too, so I can work on my homework and not have to worry about the drive.”

Columbus North head coach Caitlin Greiner and Columbus East head coach Stacie Pagnard and assistant Terry Sweasy came together in August to form Columbus Volleyball Academy.

Pagnard and Sweasy had talked about forming their own feeder program at East. Greiner, who had started the Columbus North Volleyball Club, approached them about joining forces.

“We based the decision on whether the teams would be competitive or not,” Jenny Gilley said. “We were looking for competition, and that’s why we went to Circle originally and then came back when coach P decided to start up this club.”

The Academy currently has 67 girls ages 9 to 14. The seven teams — two 12-and-under teams, two 13-and-under teams and three 14-and-under teams practice at East and North high schools and Central and Northside middle schools.

Coaches from North lead the 13-year-old teams, and coaches from East lead the 14-year-old squads.

“Coaching is better here (than at Circle City),” Reese Whitehead said. “They really push us to be better.”

Sweasy, the club director, stressed that the Academy is a bipartisan effort between East and North. He does not allow the coaches to encourage players to go to either school.

“We’re just trying to build volleyball in Columbus, Indiana, so that it doesn’t matter which high school you go to,” Sweasy said. “We’re not going to let it become and East thing or a North thing.”

The Academy’s tournament season starts in January.

North assistant coach Kathy Cox, who leads the Academy’s 13-2s team, said the East and North coaches working together is not really that bad.

“When we’re playing each other (during the high school season) we’re enemies, but we’re doing good things here,” Cox said. “We’re getting ready to make the girls really competitive now. We have teams that are going to be able to compete on that national level.”

At a glance

The Columbus Volleyball Academy has seven teams — two 12-year-old teams, two 13-year-old teams and three 14-year old teams. Here are the coaches:

12-1s: Liz Aton

12-2s: Jose Alivo

13-1s: Caitlin Greiner and Andrea Behling

13-2s: Kathy Cox

14-1s: Stacie Pagnard and Rob Painter

14-2s: Ellyn Jones

14-3s: Jay Hudson

Author photo
Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.