Bump, set, spike - in Reno
For the first time in as long as their coach can remember, ten eighth-grade Hastings girls are going to Reno, Nev., to compete in the 2010 USA Volleyball Girls' Junior National Championships.
"This is the first Hastings Heat team to ever go to nationals," head coach Rita Girgen said. "We are very excited to go and compete."
The Hastings Heat Junior Olympic volleyball 14-1's team qualified for the championships through a regional qualifier in Bloomington in April. To receive a bid, the team had to place in the top three at the qualifier.
The girls have been training since December. Their season normally ends in April, but this year the girls and their coaches decided to make a run at nationals.
Their strength as a team comes from their camaraderie.
"Every girl is from Hastings," Girgen said.
Other teams often pull players from all across a region, so Hastings is unique in that all the girls go to school together and know each other outside of volleyball. Having a common background allows the athletes to work well with each other, Girgen said, and the girls seconded the notion.
"Our team gets along really well," Kaylyn Nicklay, 13, said. "And there's no slackers on the team."
Although the girls trade off captains duties each game, Nicklay and teammate Courtney Van De Velde, 14, have stood out as leaders on the team, Girgen said.
"They run the floor really well," Girgen said. She added that they both put in the extra work necessary for success.
They're not the only ones. Everyone on the team is a solid player.
"I can put in all 10 girls and it won't affect how they do on the court," Girgen said.
The team knows nationals won't be easy.
"You can't slack off when you get there," Van De Velde said. "You gotta play hard."
Girgen is hoping the team can at least place in the middle of the pack. There will be 48 teams from their division at the tournament.
"I'm not going to say we'll get first place," Nicklay said, "but I don't think we'll get last."
The team left June 23 and start play June 24. Play will continue through June 27. They're guaranteed nine games, Girgen said, and the final day will be a single-elimination tournament.
Van De Velde and Nicklay said their most looking forward to getting to play a large number of teams, and just getting out of Minnesota for a bit.