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Empowered volleyball team closes club career with 2nd place at nationals

By Eric Dutkiewicz, 05/08/19, 8:30PM EDT


18 Elite Red leaves legacy after 4 years together

FORT WAYNE, Ind. – What a difference 4 years can make. That’s the underlying theme for Empowered Volleyball Academy’s 18 Elite Red team, which finished a club career together as national runners-up.

The club volleyball team based out of Fort Wayne finished second in the 18 division at the USA Volleyball Girls 18 Junior National Championships in April in Dallas.

“It was an awesome experience. One you have once in a lifetime,” Brooke Smith, a junior from Leo High School, tells “It was a team effort. We had to be on our A-game, playing our hearts out and just working so hard on the court out there. We played for each other, knowing that it would take everything we had.”

Empowered 18 Elite Red faced fierce competition, losing only to eventual national champion Laguna Beach (California) Volleyball Club in both pool play and in the national championship match.

“Some of these teams are the top teams in the country,” Gabriela McHugh, a senior who played for Angola High School, says. “We played our hearts out and pushed through adversity.”

The journey to 2nd in the nation has been a long one for Empowered 18 Elite Red. The core group of players formed a team as 14 years old. Coaches admits to team growing pains at first; but, the team found its stride.

Empowered 18 Elite Red finished second at the USA Volleyball Junior Nationals (courtesy Instagram/@empoweredvolleyballacademy)

“Over the years, the girls really bought into the Empowered system and the process," Will Robbins, CEO of Empowered Sports Club, says. “The girls have a great relationship with one another. They truly have become best friends.”

Empowered 18 Elite Red qualified for this year’s national tournament through a USA Volleyball regional qualifying tournament. Additionally, this season the girls took Silver 2nd in Louisville Bluegrass Tournament. This past winter, the team racked up championships at the local MLK Challenge and President’s Day Smackfest tournaments before setting sights on nationals.

“It showed us everything we’re capable of,” Delaney Hogan, a junior at Bishop Dwenger High School adds. “There’s a lot of versatility. Everyone can do everything; and they’re all very good at what they do.”

The girls formed a team when they were 14 years old; now, they head separate ways as college volleyball careers near (courtesy Instagram/@empoweredvolleyballacademy)

The high tides of Empowered 18 Elite Red’s success have raised the boats of the individual players, as well. College volleyball is on the horizon for all 9 girls who have played on the team. Six of the graduating seniors have already signed with college volleyball teams: McHugh to UNC Greensboro, Meredith Woolsey (Snider) to Southern Illinois, Anna Frey (Carroll) to Grace, Payton Krahn (Homestead) to Cedarville, and Kennedy Kintz (Blackhawk Christian) and Isabelle North (homeschooled) to Bethel. Meanwhile, Smith (Louisville) and Hogan (Xavier) have verbally committed to their respective schools. Carroll sophomore Estella Fath, who splits time with the 17 Elite Red team, is being recruited by several college volleyball programs, too.

“I’m so happy for them,” Smith adds. “They’re going to do great at the next level. I’m also sad, because this is my last time playing together.”

While this team’s time on the court together has come to an end, Robbins hopes the legacy the the 18 Elite Red team has left inspires the hundreds of other young girls at Empowered Volleyball Academy.

“This 18s team has been a huge inspiration to every team in our club, and all the clubs throughout the area. They really see how hard these girls work, how dedicated they are to their craft,” Robbins says.

Empowered Sports Club and Empowered Volleyball Academy partner with Parkview Sports Medicine for athletic training, sports performance, nutrition, athletic rehabilitation and orthopedic services for club athletes. Learn more at