DALLAS, Tex. (July 4, 2016) — Ask a handful of random athletes at the 2016 Boys’ Junior National Championships what makes their team special, and there’s a strong chance the answer will be something to the tune of, “I really love how close my team is. We’re like a family.”
Many successful teams possess similar traits: chemistry, trust and the ability to quickly forget and forgive both your own and teammates’ mistakes, among other characteristics. But for 949 16 Black, this season was particularly unique. When asked, multiple parents gave answers you may expect to hear from their children.
“This team has amazing families and players,” Nick, father of Alex, Kormeluk said. “Everyone gets along and looks out for each other.”
Lori Kahn, mother of Sam Burgii whole-heartedly agreed.
“There’s something about this team and this group of families. The kids are really close and there’s no hierarchy or pecking order among the starting players and the substitutes. And the family support is amazing. We have grandparents, aunts, uncles cousins of multiple players who have traveled to our tournaments all season long,” she said.
The family support was out in force on Monday as 949 16 Black (Southern California) defeated The HBC 16 Black (Southern California), 25-22, 25-14 for the 16 Open championship, winning its second consecutive championship after winning the 15 Open championship in 2015.
“I think this year is almost better because last year we weren’t expected to win, but this year a lot of people wanted to beat us and we still won. It feels really good,” Andrew McSweeney said.
McSweeney, along with teammates Diego Perez, Brandon Browning and Kevin Kobrine, was named to the All-Tournament team. Kobrine was named MVP, consistently scoring for 949 during key moments in the match, including two kills and two aces during a five-point stretch early in the second set.
949 jumped out to an early lead against The HBC; although HBC tied the set multiple times — often on potent attacks by Jaylan Kimbrough or Mitchell Bollinger– 949 never fell behind. And while the second set appeared to be another point-scoring battle, Perez rattled off a five-point service run that put 949 ahead 16-10 and in full control of the match. A Cameron Way ace sealed the victory.
“We played 18s all year and played 16s for the qualifying tournaments, so we haven’t really seen a whole lot of these teams and how we matched up with them. But we got the one seed and said, ‘Let’s see what we can do and see if we can keep playing at a high level,'” 949 Head Coach Kari Pestolesi said.
For Browning, the national title was a true family affair: his younger brother, Justin, won gold in the 14 Open division on Sunday with Balboa Bay 14 Blue.
“When the seedings came out we joked about it with both teams being the No. 1 seed, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be crazy if they both got gold?'” Brett Browning said. “But you don’t want to put too much pressure on your kid, so it’s been a little bit of knock-on-wood all week.”
Brett Browning and his wife, Keri, traveled to Cuba to watch Brandon play with the Boys’ Youth National Team in the NORCECA U19 Continental Cup last week; returning to the United States in time to see both Justin and Brandon win championships was an experience almost too surreal to describe.
“The best part of this whole experience has been seeing my child represent the U.S. but then also see him come back and be successful with his club team,” Keri Browning said. “Both teams had such family atmospheres. It’s been sort of magical.”
And for Brandon Browning, the gold medal hung around his neck helped ease the disappointment of a silver medal finish to the host-nation Cubans at the Continental Cup:
“This feels great.”
Gold: 949 16 Black (Southern California)
Silver: The HBC 16 Black (Southern California)
Bronze: UVS 16M (Puerto Rico)
Bronze: SASVBC Boys 16s (Southern California)
Gold: CITV–16 (Puerto Rico)
Silver: Orlando Gold 16 Black (Florida)
Bronze: Coast B16 Navy (Old Dominion)
Bronze: Sports Performance B16 Mizuno (Great Lakes)