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Ain't No Mountain High Enough

By Vernon Birmingham, 03/17/17, 4:15PM CDT

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“Highlands Performance 14 ROX stand alone on top in Colorado”

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough!
“Highlands Performance 14 ROX stand alone on top in Colorado”
Vernon Birmingham

Eighth graders on a business trip? One of the last things mentioned to the Highlands Performance 14 ROX volleyball team prior to heading to Colorado was: “This is a business trip, we are going out there [Denver] with a purpose”.

This message came from assistant coach Jacinta Baker. It stuck with the girls and they took care of business , claiming the 2017 Colorado Crossroads 14 American Division championship and earning a berth to the Junior National Tournament in Minneapolis, Minnesota later this summer.

“I am filled with excitement and I am so proud of all the hard work this team has put in”, said head coach Inger Condit.  “All of the amazing rallies and displays of skills, athleticism, and never quit attitudes were exhibited over the course of the weekend.”.

One hundred and twenty-eight teams from all over the United States descended upon Denver in hopes of earning the one available berth for nationals in the American division. The tournament started at 8 a.m. on Saturday March 4th and with the Denver Convention Center filled with over a 100 courts, it would be easy to be distracted but this team opened the day locked in and on fire.

“Our focus is always one day at a time, advance forward by being top half of Day 1”, Condit shared.

They completed this task by going 3-0 on day one of pool play, not dropping any sets defeating two teams from Texas and one from Colorado.

After being re-pooled for day 2, the 14 ROX marched toward their goal of entering day 3 of gold bracket play by again going 3-0.

For the first time all tournament, they faced adversity, dropping their first set of the tournament in their second match of the day. However, the Highlands defense rose to the occasion playing some of the best defense they have all year.

Coach Inger beamed.

“Our serve/receive and defense has improved the past few tournaments,” Inger said. “During training we have been focusing on our platform work and on the commitment it takes defensively to play  tough attacks”.

While the back row was diving all over the court and digging balls, the front line stepped up huge.

“Our blocking stepped up a level”, added Condit. “We line up our defense around our block and they touched many balls slowing down hard attacks and we had a lot of block stuffs as well”. After defeating Arete, another Texas team in three sets, the 14’s had to prepare themselves for a challenge match and potential entry into the much coveted gold bracket.

The ladies handled Arsenal, from (you guessed it) Texas in two sets 25-20 and 25-17 to finish the day 4-0 and grab a spot into championship Monday.

Highlands  opened the day playing Rage 14 Garren out of California and appeared to not skip a beat winning set 1 in a convincing manner of 25-12. In set 2, Rage jumped out to an early lead but Highlands would fight back to tie it up midway through the set. The teams exchanged leads numerous times before the Californians  pulled out a 29-27 victory.

The pressure was on Highlands. They now entered the win or go home phase of the tournament and going home early was not in the plans. Highlands would display the confidence they exhibited all weekend taking set 3 going away, 15-6.  

The next roadblock on the way to gold would be Five Star Volleyball Club out of Colorado. 14 ROX  won  set 1 25-20 before finding themselves in a hole early in set 2. After some great serves and defensive play, they  pulled out a 28-26 win to advance to the final four.

The semifinals  pitted the 14’s versus, yes another Texas team, Asics Willowbrook 14 Gold. Set 1 Willowbrook  jumped out quick but as what became accustomed over the weekend, Highlands never seemed rattled and fought back into the match.

“Our team never gave up”, Coach Inger said. “There were a few times we came from some big point deficits.  Sports is great at teaching athletes to value their team and how good things can happen through hard work and never give up attitudes.”

This attitude proved pivotal as 14’s would take control and took set 1 25-21. In set 2 Willowbrook  found their groove running off with a 25-12 victory and gave Highlands their largest set defeat of the tournament.

While it appeared the team from down South grabbed all momentum, Highlands still had a little fight left in them and fight they did. The letter E proved to mean something for this team in set 3.

“Each day we picked a letter for the girls to choose their key words”, mentioned Condit. “We needed every bit of the E’s in set 3 against Willowbrook, energy, enthusiasm, and excellence.”

With a spot in the championship match looming, Highlands  took their game to the next level, winning set 3 15-12.

“The match against Asics Willowbrook 14 Gold was a huge win for us,” Coach Inger said. “That was a very strong team and we responded by taking our play to another level.

“ After winning a pretty tight 1st set and then getting beaten badly in set 2, our players had great confidence in the 3rd set getting out to an 8-4 lead. Winning that match put us into the finals and our girls were not going to be denied”.

After taking on the whole state of Texas, it was time to face the southeast and Florida by taking on St. Pete’s in the finals. St. Pete’s  jumped out to an early lead but again, 14 ROX would not be bothered. Highlands  rallied and took control of set 1 winning it 25-20. Finding themselves 1 set away from a championship and national berth, this team wasted no time in set 2 getting ahead and staying there for most of the set. With the score at 24-21 a Chelsea Gillespie swing would be touched down for the 25th point and an American Division championship!

The team  finished the tournament 11-0, a tremendous accomplishment and claiming the bid to nationals.

“Overall this weekend our serving, blocking, defense, setting, and attacking were all clicking at a high level”, Condit said. “Whenever we might struggle individually or in some aspect of the game others would help carry the team.

“ We told the girls the night prior that the coaching staff, {which included Randy Condit} knew they would be tired and it would be tough, but to trust that after a couple of wins their adrenaline would kick in and carry them to a championship. Consider the four teams we played in the gold bracket, prior to playing us, only one of the four had even lost a match during the whole tournament. We played and won over three undefeated teams in a row to claim the championship and earn our bid to Nationals”.

And because of this, Minneapolis in June sounds like to good plan!

Additional Notes
-    Across the 11 matches, Highlands would win every 1st set. Set record 22-4
-    During Willowbrook match Chelsea Gillespie played the best ball in game one. She smacked two cross court kills down and turned to her setter and asked her to push the next one out so she could hit line for a kill. This shows her growth and wisdom on the court.
-    Helena Eubanks played the best defense the coaches have seen her play. She was getting to the low balls and diving if needed.  Her defense kept us on runs. It was a joy to watch her smile after she pounds the ball for a kill or a stuff block. She played very aggressive.
-    Grace Beshore really came through as a secret weapon getting several key kills on setter dumps.

-    Claire Thimgan and Paige Pierce served aggressively and with great accuracy helping to earn many points over the weekend. Their serve/receive and defense was amazing saving many balls and delivering to our setters on target with good consistency.
-    Mayson Behney raised her defense to a higher level and along with Grace led the offense with spreading the ball around effectively with their setting.
-    Kelly Ann Greene fought through feeling sick on day two by blocking and hitting for kills each time she came on the court. She touched a lot of balls blocking in the middle and to the outside.
-     Claire and Grace...their cheers continued to lift and motivate the team at crucial points during all of the matches.
-    Morgan Horn played her best tournament yet with timely hitting, blocking and defense.
-    Kristen Birmingham blocked and hit so well during some games she shut down our opponents.
-    Mayson, Kristen, Claire, Kelly Ann, and Paige at one time or another had sickness or injury which they battled through.
-    Highlight Play: In the championship match, a diving dig by Chelsea that led to Kristen running hard pass the deep sideline to knock the ball back up in the air with one arm so another teammate could play it over the net. It was an amazing play that gave our team the courage and confidence to continue competing with the belief they could get the job done. It was one of several amazing plays during the three-day tournament, but clearly a game changer mentally for the team.