It’s Always Volleyball Season
While volleyball has a defined season for high school athletes, the sport never truly goes out of season in Aberdeen thanks to a facility designed to help aspiring young players.
The Matchbox Recreation Center is home to more than 400 volleyball players ranging in age from 3 to seniors in high school. It started in 2019 as an idea from Alexz Smith, Owner and Director of Operations. She has a strong background in volleyball as a former player and current assistant coach at Northwestern, as well as being a club coach for nearly 15 years.
“We had a club volleyball program in town, and it was kind of dissolving, so we were trying to figure out what to do,” Smith said. “I have a background in both business and coaching so it was a natural fit for me to kind of do something on my own, still give our kids an opportunity to play volleyball in our area.”
Smith said she sought out the opinions from a variety of volleyball friends to find out the best way to meet the needs of area players.
“I feel so blessed that I have so many connections in volleyball in this part of the country,” Smith said.
While some of those opinions may have varied, the common denominator was that everyone wanted what was best for the kids.
“This is such a sport where people are willing to offer help,” Smith said. “It’s such a strong sense of community so everyone was excited about it, so it was fun to get everyone’s opinion on it.”
The end result was a facility that features three permanent volleyball courts, an area for concessions and a retail store. While there are no mounted scoreboards, there are portable remote-controlled scoreboards for each court.
The facility has not only become a hub for volleyball enthusiasts, there are two other groups that have come to call Matchbox home during the winter months.
“We have a crew of pickleball players that play in here Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the mornings,” Smith said. “Then Hub City Soccer, we also have a partnership with them. They run their indoor soccer programs out of here in the wintertime.”
As a result, Matchbox is an extremely busy place with activity morning, noon and night nearly every single day during the winter months. While that helps to maximize the existing space, it also creates a challenge when it comes to scheduling.
“It’s definitely a gigantic jigsaw puzzle. That’s what we say,” Smith said. “It’s a jigsaw puzzle and it’s also forced us to be super creative in the way that we run practices and the way that we schedule, because we do want to fit as many activities in here as we can and as many kids in here as we can.”
Matchbox hosts 23 tournaments a year. When tourneys do take place, the middle volleyball court is not used to allow space for spectators to view the matches.
Still, despite the full schedule, there is an opportunity for the space to be rented for special occasions.
“We also open it up for court rentals where people can come out and just rent this space, a court at a time or the whole gym,” Smith said. “Sometimes we get families that come out and just rent it so they can have their kids run around for a while. More specialty events like that we have very limited availability for.”
People can check out details at www.matchboxrec.com.
Matchbox has featured a who’s who of area volleyball players who have used the site in its brief existence. Some even come back from college to help coach the next generation of players in the summer months.
Smith is happy that she is still able to maintain her coaching duties at Northwestern in addition to running a full-time business.
“It’s really fun for me to still be included in the high school season in the fall, because I get to see not just the Northwestern kids, but every team that we compete against. I get to catch up with all the players everywhere we go,” Smith said. “We really try and talk the talk, and walk the walk. We want these players to be participating in everything so as a coaching staff we really encourage that too, that we are involved in club and in high school. That’s a really important thing that we do here.”
Matchbox has players that come to Aberdeen from outlying communities like Mobridge, Sisseton, Britton, Watertown, Hitchcock, and Jamestown, N.D.
“We have different things throughout the year. Our club program, girls come in individually,” Smith said. “We don’t care where you’re from. And it’s a big thing of what we do here, we’re trying to help girls make friends, enjoy the sport that they love together, where we’re mixing players all together.”
In addition to the club program, Matchbox also features skill clinics, private lessons, and individual training workouts.
Smith said it is difficult to gauge how much of an impact that Matchbox is having on players because there really isn’t a measuring stick.
“It’s hard to say what is the end success, what means that you got better, because if it means that we’re producing more collegiate athletes, I don’t think that’s necessarily a fair indicator based on all the small schools that we have around here and just the level of athletes and commitment level,” Smith said. “A lot of these kids are three-sport athletes, you see that all time, which is absolutely fantastic. We love that. So as far as like seeing progression, it has been really for us to see, not necessarily skill progression, but interest progression.”
Besides, not every high school player wants to play college volleyball. And in some instances, there are high school-aged girls that come to Matchbox who do not play for their school teams.
“It’s hard to catch up because it’s about touches combined over time, but there’s always an opportunity to get better and there’s always an opportunity to enjoy the sport in itself,” Smith said. “So, if you enjoy playing volleyball, we do offer different recreational programs. We have some kids that don’t play high school volleyball, but they do play here. There are recreational options for them as well.”
Smith said she often gets asked what the next step is for Matchbox. While there is always a wish list, she is content with how things are currently going.
“We do have a need to grow, but I also like what we have here,” Smith said. “We have something that really works for us right now, so maybe someday.”
In the meantime, the Matchbox Recreation Center will continue to serve the needs of the volleyball community the best way that it can.
“What we’re really trying to do is to provide a positive and beneficial athletic opportunity for our young girls in our community,” Smith said. “That’s primarily what we’re focused on.” //