It would be easy to have a letdown after getting the call at the beginning of the week your team has received a bid to Nationals but the ladies of Highlands 17 Rox had different plans. “We were relieved when we got the call from the Condit’s (Club Directors) that we got a bid after another team won Vegas, said 17 Rox Head Coach Marie Geiger. It was a great week of practice before Chicago and was fun!”
The task now was keeping the team motivated for Chicago. And what was that motivation? It was bringing home the gold ball by winning the whole tournament. Geiger added, “I told them they can do it if we played like we did in regionals. At regionals we really clicked on defense which was the key, being led by Kayla Huffman who was a voice in the huddle and the blocking by Kai Welsh and Kassidy Pfeiffer”. It was evident within the 17 circle; Chicago may be something special.
Highlands would have an easy day one in Chicago. The first match of day two was against Legacy. We started tight and started slow making too many errors. The battle would go three and a key substitution in the third set with the addition of Rachael Flanery proved to be the spark needed to pull off a victory and sail through the remainder of the day.
Day three would pit the 17 Rox against another KC team, Southland Aces. What appeared to be a much needed easy victory to start the day and conserve energy wouldn’t be, as Highlands took their foot off the gas and let them back in the game. Timely kills by Alison Hatfield and Addison Hampton sealed the victory 25-21 25-23.
The next opponent was a tall team out of Alabama, Rock City. After previously scouting this team the previous day, 17 Rox knew they would be in for a battle against possibly the best team they’ve seen thus far.
“This is the game needed to get to semifinals”, said Coach Marie. Defense again showed huge for 17’s with blocks by Kaitlyn Haller and Pfeiffer. In the back row, Lexi Reneau was digging up everything she could reach. Geiger added, “I tell the girls to always move in and don't worry about getting hit in the face and well that's what Cassie Hoover did!” With the score 21-19 Highlands, their big middle got set and lined it at Hoover. She put up her hands to defend it and it went right to Haller who turned and put it away. This play sparked the fire to end the match and take the 17’s on to the Final Four!
In the field of four the next opponent would be 1st Alliance. A last minute pep talk from Coach Marie and assistant Jane Geiger before the match was in store. “I told the girls in the huddle we have been in this position before, last year in Minnesota and last week at regionals and now it is time to break through and get to the finals”.
This talk fired the girls up and they started out strong with kills by Hampton and Haller to start the run. The team received exceptional serving from Hailey Giboney and Huffman recording a couple of aces. 17 Rox takes the victory in straight sets 25-21,26-24.
The finals would see the team out of Kansas City taking on T-Street from California. Both teams came into the finals undefeated so a potential great match was on deck. The match started back and forth with teams matching point for point. Haller and Welsh were getting kills and serving showed to be lights out with
Cassie Hoover, Reneau, Giboney, Huffman, Haller and Pfeiffer being perfect. First set would go to Highlands, 25-23.
Set number two and Highlands would jump out to a big lead behind their hitters who were en fuego, with no errors. Hatifield, Hampton, Huffman, Haller, Pfeiffer were a perfect 23 for 23 on swings. The lead started to slip away where, during a long rally, the weirdest, smartest play occurred. Highlands would block a T-Street hit and it rolled all the way across the top of net from right to left and Huffman shoves it to the corner for a kill! It was a great play and the parents went wild. This gave the team the energy to seal the deal. Two points later and it was over, 25-21 and our 17s were Windy City 17 American Champions. “We did it, exclaimed Coach Marie, it is the greatest feeling and I was so proud of the girls. They played great and wanted the gold ball and earned their national berth”.
A great accomplishment for the girls and they will remember it for a long time. It's the Climb. Highlands Performance 17 Rox will compete in the American Division at USAV Junior Nationals in the end of June in Minneapolis, Minnesota.