July 03, 2013 - By Dan Shriner
Four Lake Orion teens have learned the value of teamwork and are national champions as a result.
The four girls, Katherine Carlson, Rachel Giwa, Bella Bucchi and Hannah Murdock, are part of the national championship team that won the Amateur Athletic Union's (AAU) volleyball title for girls 16 and under in the top Open Class on a team called Legacy.
The 11-member team won the title on June 25 in Orlando, Florida, following a four-day tournament in which they went 13-0. The title is the first time that any volleyball team from Michigan in any age group has won an open division championship in the AAU.
The girls come from different high schools in Michigan and the region, including some from as far as 300 miles away. Carlson and Bucchi attend Notre Dame Prep while Giwa and Murdock attend Lake Orion High School.
The four Orion girls and the other seven were selected to play for the Rochester-based Legacy team. The team is coached by Jen Cottrill and husband Ricky Cottrill.
According to parents of the girls and the teens, they learned that even though there may have been some teams that appeared to have better individual talent, there was no team that had the chemistry and teamwork that Legacy had.
"These girls just love each other and really care about each other on and off the floor," said Kim Bucchi, mother of Rachel.
"They have great team chemistry, like no other team in the tournament. The girls truly enjoy each other," said Tanya Carlson, mother of Katherine, who also was named All-American.
Jean Giwa, mother of Rachel, echoed the sentiments of the other moms and said the girls were obviously excited to be national champions.
"She (Rachel) is so thrilled. It was such a great experience for the girls and they get along so well together. They had such good coaching too."
Hannah Murdock said she realizes how important the team chemistry can be to succeed.
"Yes, it is important. Outside of practice we are all such good friends. We enjoy being with each other."
Did the girls talk or think about winning the national title?
The team was seeded fourth entering the tournament, which had some of the top teams in the nation.
"We believed we could do well and we would have been happy with a top finish but this was so exciting for us," Hannah said.
Tanya Carlson said as the tournament wore on each day the competition got tougher but the girls kept responding and playing together as a team should.
Carlson said the girls also enjoyed the fact that the finals were played in the ESPN Center and were broadcast on ESPN3. Most of the matches were held at the Orlando Convention Center but championships were at ESPN Center.
"It all seemed surreal," said Kim Bucchi. "It was something they only dreamed about. They were thrilled."
The girls will all be juniors this coming year and are top players on their schools' varsity teams. Carlson is 5-feet-10 and is an outside hitter. Murdock is 6-feet-2 and also an outside hitter. Bucchi is a defensive specialist and Giwa is a setter.
They all have hopes to play collegiate volleyball. The girls and their parents noted the huge numbers of collegiate coaches at the tournament who were watching and undoubtedly hoping to attract some of the talented players.
Legacy's success has brought attention to the group. On Monday of this week the girls and their families flew to Dallas for another national tournament and a shot at another national title.
They qualified for the tournament by winning in Orlando and will be one of only 32 teams of the most elite teenage volleyball players in the nation.
While no one is predicting another national title, but the girls and their parents know how important chemistry and teamwork is to succeed.
"They really play smart together,' said Kim Bucchi. "This team is special."