When Kelly Taney moved from Las Vegas to Minot in August, she was surprised to find there were no club volleyball programs for her daughter, Cameron, to hone her skills.
So this spring, Taney and Kolene Lohnes - another new-to-Minot mother whose daughter, Hailey, had played club in Texas - started the 14-and-under Dakota Thunder Volleyball Club. Taney opened a bank account under the club's name and parents have paid for uniforms, coach's fees and travel to in-state tournaments on an as-needed basis.
The early results have been surprising.
Minot's only club team has won two of the three tournaments it has entered, including a 12-team event in Bismarck that featured a couple established squads from the state capital.
"I honestly was not expecting this team to be as good as it is," Kelly Taney said. "This team is really pretty talented."
The club's core is the Ramstad Middle School eighth-grade 'A' team, but Our Redeemer's Christian School eighth-grader Makayla Gartner and ORCS seventh-grader Ryleigh Popinga are also on the 11-player roster.
The Thunder begin their final tournament of the season today in Devils Lake against 16- to 18- year-old competition.
While the Thunder are enjoying their success this spring, one payoff of the extended training and extra season of competition is the eventual improvement of Minot's high school teams.
"Playing around the state, they're playing a lot more varieties of opponents and a lot more competitive competition," said Cindy Toledo, a former Minot State University player and the Thunder's coach. "It's absolutely going to make them more competitive as they get older."
But club volleyball's effect on the level of play in Minot will be limited unless the Thunder or other clubs expand to include more age groups.
"Initially, my motivation was just for my daughter, but now that I've seen the interest, I would consider a whole (multiple age-level) club," said Taney, adding that she would want help from other parents.
MSU coach Travis Ward held a parent meeting and tryouts for a club in December, but quickly found that parents weren't ready to commit to his vision of the team, which involved traveling to more tournaments.
"I think that when they found out the cost, they thought it was maybe much different than they were ready for right away," Ward said.
Taney said the team hasn't done any fundrasing this spring and estimated the cost per family - not including travel to tournaments in Jamestown, Bismarck, Northwood and Devils Lake - has been about $450 for the three-month season.
Ward said he would still like to start a more involved club, but if and when that happens will be "driven by the kids' interests."
"Anytime you're playing, you're going to raise the level for sure," Ward said. "So we're really pro having clubs in North Dakota. Obviously, we think that good training is going to make a difference long-term."