PU5H VBC Champs

Head coach Bret Cariveau (back, right) stands with his PU5H Volleyball Club players after the team won the AAU West Coast Championships tournament in Las Vegas on May 31.

In just its second year in existence, PU5H VBC (Push 5 Volleyball Club) continues to have success at the national level. The team’s latest feat? Winning the AAU West Coast Championships tournament in Las Vegas.

Based in Mayfield and coached by Bret Cariveau, the PU5H 18U team had already won two bid tournaments this season, one of which was in Birmingham, Alabama, that earned them the berth into the event in Las Vegas. Not satisfied with simply being there, the team went 8-1 in the three-day event en route to claiming the national title. Cariveau described it as a “huge” accomplishment.

“This team is unreal. It’s by far the best team I’ve ever coached,” he said. “In the area we’re in, nobody has ever won this type of title. It’s the first time a team in this area has done it, let alone a program that’s been in existence for two years. For me as the person that started the club and runs it, it hopefully shows people that the way we’re doing things and what I’m trying to do really does work when it’s applied and the players and parents buy in to it.”

The 2021 AAU West Coast Championships were held May 29-31 at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino and featured 28 of the best club volleyball teams from across the country, including several from the West Coast. Cariveau said his team faced off against squads from Michigan, Oregon, California and Nevada in its quest for the championship, but it was PU5H that entered as the overall No. 1 seed.

“I did not know that until I saw the first-day pool, and we were the first team listed, and typically that means you’re the overall No. 1 seed,” Cariveau said. “I looked at some of the other teams that were seeded on the top of their pools, and they were very good teams.”

Since a top seeding typically comes with added pressure, Cariveau opted not to tell his players — including daughter Audrey — where PU5H was ranked. But he could only keep it a secret for so long.

“My daughter asked how we were seeded. I told her, ‘We’re seeded pretty good. It’s not bad. I think it’s probably where we should be.’ And I just kind of left it at that,” Cariveau said. “But she’s smart enough to realize she can go online and look that stuff up, and because I didn’t give her a straight answer, she went and looked and found out that we were the No. 1 seed. And a few of the parents also looked and told their daughters going into it. So they already knew.”

So he encouraged his players to embrace that top ranking.

“I addressed it when we got there and said, ‘You all know we’re the No. 1 overall seed. We came from the furthest distance away. I guarantee you the teams that are here are going to want to beat us, and you guys are going to have to step up and play and prove why you won a bid to come here and why you’re the No. 1 overall seed,’ ” he said.

Joining Audrey Cariveau on the team were Alexis Fliehman, Jennifer Goddard, Hailey Hallmark, Halle Langhi, Alyssa McClain, Olivia Mitchell and Bailey Schipp. And they did exactly as their coach instructed.

The team’s lone loss of the event was to XFactor VBC in three sets — 23-25, 25-20 and 13-15 — in what Cariveau described as a “terrible” performance despite it being closely contested.

“We had 25 unforced errors between hitting and serving, so we basically gave the other team a free set worth of points just for showing up,” he said.

Cariveau said he “was not happy at all” after that match and was “really concerned” about how his team would fare the rest of the way. But those concerns proved unfounded, as the team responded by winning the rest of its matches en route to claiming the championship.

It wasn’t always easy, Cariveau said, but the girls found a way to get the job done.

“In several of the matches, we were down significantly, and we ended up pushing it to three sets and winning against teams that were very, very good and thought they were going to beat us,” he said. “We just played the way that we play and limited errors and just kept balls in play and played really strong defense and served really well and ended up winning.”

With pool play behind them, the girls of PU5H advanced to the championship tournament on May 31 needing three victories to clinch the title. They defeated adidas NW in three sets — 20-25, 25-23, 15-13 — in the quarterfinals and PSA Sunfire in three sets — 26-24, 20-25, 15-12 — in the semifinals to advance to the championship match against Amazons 18 Mambas.

Cariveau said the Mambas are based in California and are a well-know program on the West Coast with several girls destined to play at the Division I level in college. The Mambas tried some intimidation tactics during warmups, but Cariveau made sure to keep his team focused.

“When they were warming up, you could just see that they are a really good team. They hit the ball really hard and are very athletic, and they jump really well. They make a presence when they’re warming up, and they do it intentionally to intimidate you,” he said. “I told our girls, ‘It doesn’t matter how they warm up. That’s a controlled environment, and everything is in rhythm. All we have to do is serve how we have been and don’t give them a lot of opportunities to get really good swings on the ball.’ And that’s what we did.”

Cariveau said his team got off to a slow start but rebounded nicely to sweep the championship match in two sets, winning 25-22 and 25-18.

“We were down seven or eight points in the first set but kept grinding,” he said. “The girls have a mindset of no matter what the point differential is, they always think they can come back. They don’t give up, they keep fighting, and they find ways to continue making plays.”

Once PU5H started getting some traction, their play began to frustrate the Mambas, Cariveau said.

“We started limiting errors and hitting our spots that I told them to serve at, and we started getting them (Mambas) out of their system. They couldn’t take big swings, and they started getting really frustrated. And we were in their way when they were hitting, and they had hitting errors,” he said. “In the second set, we went up eight points pretty quickly, and you could tell they were super frustrated and flustered and weren’t used to that situation. And we just kept the momentum up and beat them in two sets.”

With the championship clinched, Cariveau treated his team to a celebratory dinner at a Brazilian steakhouse. With so many games to play over the span of just three days, that was the only touristy activity the team had time to do during its stay in Vegas.

“We had planned on doing a lot of stuff, but we did not get any time at all to do it,” Cariveau said.

For more information about PU5H VBC, contact Cariveau at 270-792-4604 or coachcariveaupu5hvbc@gmail.com.

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