Volleyball player jumps and extends arm to improve vertical reach.

Behind the scenes with champions

On an unseasonably warm winter’s evening, nearly 200 girls were honing their volleyball skills on the seven courts inside the Upward Stars Volleyball Center in Spartanburg.

A group of 10 were gathered with Gary Hazelwood on the track surrounding the courts, as he demonstrated techniques that will make them stronger, more agile and flexible in an attempt to play better and avoid injury.

Hazelwood’s coaching is designed to build champions, and it has paid off for Upward Stars-Upstate. The volleyball program has captured three national titles in a row.

Hazelwood is one of several Sports Medicine Institute coaches and trainers who work with Upward Stars.

“They’ve been key since day one,” said Corey Helle, volleyball director for Upward Stars. “They always make sure we have what we need as far as training staff needs go.”

In 2015, the Upward Stars 17-Under team brought home the National Title from the AAU National Tournament in Orlando, Fla. In 2016 and 2017, the Stars’ 18-Under Team also brought home the National Title from the same tournament.

It has been a gratifying experience to help them succeed, Hazelwood said.

“It feels really good to see them succeed like that,” he said. “I’m super excited for them because they are good athletes, and most importantly good people, I feel like their success is a bit of success on our end as well.”

During sessions with the 18-Under team, Hazelwood runs players through a 20-minute prep session that focuses on ankles, knees and hips – exercises that improves their mobility and stability, and decrease the risk for injury.

They also work on shoulders, Hazelwood said, focusing on above-the-shoulder exercises for the players, and utilizing “rubber band” exercises that help strengthen rotator cuffs and deltoid muscles.

Then they transition to jumping drills and more band exercises, including bungees and box jumps.  The band exercises help athletes progress in a proper, safe manner, Hazelwood said. They’re designed to help athletes jump higher, move faster and hit harder.

“Our programs help the athletes become more aware of their bodies and what they are capable of,” Hazelwood said.

The end result – athletes who are faster, stronger and more agile.

“We’ve been blessed,” Helle said. “We have a lot of good coaches, a lot of good athletes, a lot of good families and the people at Spartanburg Regional have been a big part of our success. It is a team effort, and it shows what you can accomplish as a team.”

The Sports Medicine Institute helps a variety of athletes improve their game. Learn more.