Recent Minnechaug grads participate in USA Junior Olympics
By Rick Sobey
WILBRAHAM - Firework celebrations were commonplace in Hampden County during the July 4 weekend. Springfield, East Longmeadow and Chicopee shot off town fireworks while many households blasted some from their own backyards.
Aidan Burke and Tyler Moriarty brought a different form of fireworks down to Atlanta, Ga. They participated in the USA Junior Olympic National Volleyball Championships in Atlanta from July 1 through 4 and celebrated the holiday by blasting rockets at their opponents.
Their Junior Olympic club team, the Connecticut Husky 18 Red, had qualified for this national tournament by winning the New England tournament in the winter. The Husky team participated in this national tournament a year ago in Utah, and the team attempted to improve on last year's performance.
"Our goal in Atlanta was to place better than last year," Moriarty said. "Last year we only won a single game in the national tournament. We also wanted to finish in the top half of our division."
The team left the national tournament with these goals accomplished and Moriarty was ecstatic. "The tournament was an overall success," he said. "We were able to finish 41st out of 89 teams as we won five games this year, so we did better in both categories that we wanted to improve on."
This event was a humbling experience as the 2009 Minnechaug graduates played against the most talented volleyball athletes in the country. "The main thing I can take out of this tournament is there are a lot better kids out there," Moriarty said. "Being one of the best out of Western Massachusetts is nothing compared to all of the kids from different states."
Burke also noticed the advanced level of skill from teams around the nation. "I learned the speed and power of play I should be expecting to see next year if I do decide to play volleyball," he said. "It was also a very fun experience that I will never forget."
The Husky team faced tough squads from all over America and its territories. They played in a pool with the best team in the tournament from California. They faced the only boys' club team from Oklahoma, as well as teams from North Carolina and Guam.
Moriarty and Burke both started playing for Minnechaug as freshmen. By the beginning of their sophomore years, they became starters on the varsity team. Moriarty is the setter, which he calls "the quarterback," and Burke is the libero, which he calls "the defensive specialist."
Next year, these longtime teammates will be going down different paths. Moriarty is attending the Wentworth Institute of Technology and will be studying architecture, while Burke is entering Springfield College as a history major.
Moriarty is committed to continuing his volleyball career at the college level, but Burke has not made a decision yet. "I'm not sure if I'm going to play volleyball because their volleyball team has been a top seed in the national tournament for the past several years, and it's very competitive to make," he said.
Regardless of Burke's decision, he will always hold on to his national volleyball experience in Atlanta.