A collection of club volleyball players were posed with a question on Friday morning at the Kansas City Convention Center: “Who was the best setter in the nation last year?”
Without hesitation, several of the Triple Crown Sports college camp attendees responded: “Jenna Gray.”
The campers’ response stems from the presence of Gray’s college coach, Kevin Hambly and, of course, Gray’s tie to the Kansas City area.
A graduate of St. James Academy, Gray’s impact on the national scene was felt when Morehead State coach Jaime Gordon asked that question of campers on Friday, one day ahead of the Triple Crown Volleyball NIT.
After instructing camps, Hambly said he plans to stick around in KC through Sunday to recruit during the tournament, which brings in 580 teams across seven age groups in its first year in Kansas City after several in Salt Lake City.
“It was fun,” Hambly said after his first camp session. “It’s just a little introduction into what we do and it’s a good opportunity to get these kids exposed to college coaching, but also for recruiting opportunities. It serves the coaches, the players and it’s really fun to be a part of.”
Hambly, who was at Illinois for eight seasons before spending the last two at Stanford, has always had his eye on Kansas City talent.
“I recruited a couple Kansas City kids when I was at Illinois,” he said. “I think between Topeka and Kansas City there’s a lot of great volleyball in this area. I always love coming here to recruit because there’s great talent.”
Gray, a 2017 AVCA All-America first team honoree and a two-time Pac-12 setter of the year, and Audriana Fitzmorris, her former St. James teammate and an AVCA All-America second teamer, have helped Stanford to two national titles in the last three seasons, including the Cardinal’s five-set national-title win over Nebraska in December.
Tori Gelles, a KC MAVS player and Overland Park resident, was one of the campers who quickly deemed Gray the best setter in the country. Gelles received instruction from Hambly and the other coaches during the one-hour camp geared toward setters and defensive specialists.
“I’m a really big fan of him, so it was great,” Gelles said of Hambly. “It was really great working with the coaches because I learned a lot on footwork and technique. I got more hands-on help and I was exposed to techniques for older ages.”
This is what Hambly wants to provide for campers. But there’s other benefits of helping run a college camp that precedes a massive tournament.
“It’s the first big tournament every year and there’s a lot of great teams are here,” Hambly said of the NIT that runs through Monday. “There’s some other great tournaments, but this one has kind of become the one with the highest level of competition. Because of that we’re expecting some pretty big recruits.”
And maybe this is where he’ll find his setter of the future.
“This is a nice way to start the year,” Hambly said. “The run that we were on, now it’s just good to be around the kids who have such good energy. Just their willingness to learn and try things. We had some liberos that could pass, so I think there is a high level here.”