Nina Pugliese admits some of the competition at the Winter Bump can be intimidating.
The three-day Myrtle Beach volleyball tournament features 288 youth teams and some 3,000 athletes, so there’s no shortage of top tier talent there.
But the event also gives local clubs a chance to showcase their skills — and compare themselves to other programs.
“It’s really important,” said Pugliese, 15-year-old right side hitter for Horry County-based Coast United. “It shows you where you have to grow to become a better team.”
This year’s tournament features clubs from Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee, as well as from across the state. The Myrtle Beach Convention Center and the Myrtle Beach Sports Center are the primary host sites.
“It’s obviously special to play in a tournament of this size right in your back yard,” said Alex Sing, the tournament director and coach of Coast United. “And [it's special] being able to draw the talent that the tournament draws from all over the South.”
Although the vast majority of the teams competing in the Bump are from out of town, Sing pointed out that the popularity of club volleyball continues to surge in Horry County.
Grand Strand Juniors, Coast United’s parent organization, is one of three local clubs competing in this weekend's tournament, and dozens of teams from those clubs are playing in the Bump’s various age divisions.
“We’ve still been growing,” Sing said of his club, which he launched about 13 years ago. “Every year we’ve added a few teams with more players in the area. It’s grown competitively as well. Not just in size, but the level of talent and competition that the girls now can play is great, too.”
Some of that improvement can be seen in the success of the high school teams. For three straight seasons, an Horry County team has won the 4A state volleyball championship (Myrtle Beach in 2017 and North Myrtle Beach, where Sing also coaches, the last two years).
“[The schools are] adding more and more teams,” said Walter Anchors, a coach with the Myrtle Beach Volleyball Club. “They’re adding a B team instead of just varsity and JV. And younger kids get to play. So I think that’s what’s driving it.”
Anchors, who has coached volleyball in the United States and Europe for more than 50 years, said the Bump is a pleasant change of pace for his players because they can sleep at home and keep a normal routine while still facing major tournament competition. And because the season is early, the tournament is a good measuring stick.
“It has great benefits,” he said. “It lets us know where we’re at compared to the rest of the state and the region. Then we know what we need to work on.”
For 16-year-old Anna Grace Bradley, the tournament is more than tough matches and an early team tune-up. The Coast United setter, who is playing in her third Bump, just enjoys the spectacle.
“It’s so fun,” she said. “It’s fun to play hard in front of everybody.”