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Rimrock rolls - Central Oregonian
July 3, 2012Crook County High School
After finishing 10th at the American Volleyball Association National Tournament a year ago, the Rimrock Volleyball Club had their sights set on even higher goals this year.
The Rimrock 18s National squad earned an invitation to the AAU 18 Open National Tournament after finishing seventh at a qualifying tournament in Spokane, Wash., the end of March.
The tournament, which was held last week in Orlando, Fla., is open to teams from all over the world and is the top youth tournament in the United States.
“I was extremely pleased,” said head coach Joel Kent. “It couldn’t have gone better. I’ve coached for a long time and this was the best volleyball I’ve been involved with.”
The Rimrock squad is made up entirely of players from Central Oregon, and includes five players from Crook County. By contrast, other teams at the tournament included the Chinese Junior National Team, the Puerto Rican National Team, and all-star teams from major cities throughout the United States.
Facing the top teams in the country, Rimrock struggled on the opening day of the tournament, dropping all three of their matches.
“There was one team in our pool that we couldn’t have beaten no matter what we did,” said Kent. “Mizuno Northern Lights was just too big and too strong for us. The level of competition was really high but we played two teams that on a good day we could have beat.”
Rimrock nearly won their first match of the tournament against Illini Elite from Chicago, Ill. After winning game one 25-17 Rimrock lost the second game of the match 25-15. The two teams battled evenly in game three before Illini Elite finally pulled out a 17-15 win.
Mizuno Northern Lights then defeated Rimrock 25-16, 25-10. Rimrock finished the day with a 25-21, 25-18 loss to Top Select Rags.
After dropping all three matches of pool play, Rimrock dropped into the Blue division where they went 7-1 the remainder of the tournament, eventually winning the bracket.
“After the first day, we were on fire,” Kent said. “We beat some great teams.”
The team started their winning streak with a 25-19, 25-14 victory over Epic 18s out of San Fransisco, Calif. Then Rimrock edged Florida’s South Bay 20-25, 25-12, 15-9. The team rolled over Club One 25-22, 25-12, then defeated Empire Mizuno 21-25, 25-18, 15-6.
The victory over Empire Mizuno was especially satisfying to Kent because they were one of the tallest teams in the tournament, featuring a 6-07 outside hitter.
Rimrock then knocked off Wildcat Premier 25-19, 21-25, 15-11 to win their fifth consecutive match.
The team suffered a major setback on the third day of the tournament when setter Kelsi Kemper injured her shoulder. The injury forced the team to play with just one setter the remainder of the match, and they were unable to make the necessary adjustments, falling 25-16, 29-27 to the New Mexico Juniors.
On the tournament’s final day, Rimrock was able to get past Epic 18 for a second time to earn a berth in the Blue Championship game against New Mexico Juniors.
To adjust for the missing Kemper, Kent elected to move Kirsti Kelso to setter.
Although Kelso had never played setter before, she was able to do the job and Rimrock came away with a hard-fought 26-24, 21-25, 16-14 victory.
“Kemper was so positive on the bench and kept everybody up, telling them that they could do it,” said libero Braiden Johnston. “And Kelso stepped up and set just like she had been doing it for years.”
Kent was also impressed with what Kelso was able to accomplish.
“She really stepped up,”?he said. “Kelso is one of only two players that I’ve ever had that played every position.”
Rimrock trailed 14-12 in the final game of the match, before Hannah Troutman served the final four points of the match.
“She served so hard that the New Mexico team couldn’t handle her serves and had some overpasses, which Makayla Lindburg just blasted,” said Crook County volleyball coach Rosie Honl, who is also the director for the Rimrock Club. “New Mexico was an extremely tough team and it was just a great game.”
Adding to the excitement, the match was played on the center court of the ESPN Sports Complex at Disney World at the same time as the Chinese National Team was playing Asics Munciana Samuria for the National Championship. The Chinese team, which finished the tournament with a 12-0 record, went on to easily win the championship.
With the victory in the blue bracket, Rimrock finished 37th in the tournament.
“It was awesome,” Johnston said. “It was cool that we were invited to the same tournament with teams from all over the world.”
Kelso was also proud of how the team played.
“There were no slack teams at all in the tournament. It was really fun, and I’m glad we came.”
Lindburg was also excited about the tournament.
“I?was proud of my team for the way we played the last three days,”?Lindburg said. “When you are playing big teams like that, you don’t have room for errors and ball placement — where you serve, where you set, how you hit around the block all become way more important. It makes you mentally way stronger. ”
Troutman was also pleased with the team’s performance.
“I think it went great,” she said. “It’s a lot faster than high school ball. I like the faster pace. It was great, and I think it will help us next year.”
Although she didn’t get to play on the final day of the tournament, Kemper was also satisfied with how the team did.
“I thought we played well except for the first day,” she said. “On that last day, we stepped up and beat a really good team that had beaten us the day before. It was kind of emotional for me because I wasn’t on the court. It was hard not to be able to play, but I knew my team would come through. I want to thank Kent and Honl with all my heart because we wouldn’t have been there without them and it was a great experience.”
Kent couldn’t have been more pleased with how the tournament finished up.
“The level of play was extremely high,” he said. “The main thing was that we were able to go out on the main court at ESPN, playing right next to the Chinese team that won the national championships, and go out and get a win for our seniors. Our finish was as high as it could have been.”