Area volleyball standouts return from AAU national tournament

The chance to perform on the national stage is a big draw for any athlete.

One area team proved its worth last week, finishing 24th out of 111 teams in its class at the AAU Girls’ Junior National Championship volleyball tournament in Orlando, Florida.

The Southwest Minnesota Junior Olympic volleyball team ended the four-day tournament with a 9-3 record and a runner-up finish in the Consolation Bracket.

“Our ultimate goal was to go down there and get in the (Championship) Division,” said Southwest Minnesota head coach Raftyn Rignell. “We ended up getting in the (Consolation Division), so that was disappointing for me and the kids, but it was a good experience for us because those last two days you really do play some good teams.”

The Southwest Minnesota JO team consists of players from around the area, including Marshall’s Sydney Griffin and Kenzie Beekman, Minneota’s Taylor Reiss and Megan Larson, and Lakeview’s Tegan Van Moer.

The team started the tournament by sweeping its pool on June 26 for a 3-0 record. The Southwest Minnesota JO team continued its winning ways on Day 2, advancing its record to 6-0 for the tournament.

“The way they seed the tournament, ranked as high as we were, we faced some lower teams to start,” Rignell said. “That’s nice to get your bearings straight, but it also hurts you a bit because you’re not playing tough competition the whole time.”

On the third day, the Southwest Minnesota JO squad found itself facing one of the stronger teams in the tournament earlier than expected.

“Sports Performance is one of the biggest clubs in the country, a very renowned club. They’ve been around forever and they have great athletes,” Rignell said. “We knew they were going to be tough. They had got second in their pool the day before and that’s why they ended up in our pool.

“Typically you wouldn’t have had that strong of a pool on the third day, but because they got second in their pool, they went to our pool.”

After winning the first match of Day 3, Southwest Minnesota went three sets with Mizuno Sports Performance, an Illinois-based team, before suffering its first loss of the tournament.

“We played really well that game,” Rignell said. “We just struggled defensively a bit against their outsides and that’s what happened in that game.”

Another Illinois team, Ultimate VBC of Chicago, gave Southwest Minnesota its second loss of the tournament and the day. Serve receive spelled the difference in that match.

“Our serve receive really broke down in that game and we weren’t able to get anything going offensively. Our hitting percentage as a team was really low in that game,” Rignell said. “We put ourselves at a disadvantage not being able to pass the ball that game, so it was hard to get anything going offensively against the Ultimate team.”

With two losses in one day, the Southwest team was dropped out of contention for the top two elimination brackets, which reward consistency.

“In order to get to Championship or Premiere Division, you have to get first or second in your pool every day,” Rignell explained. “Sports Performance had lost two games going into Day 3 and we lost two games on Day 3.

“But because we lost to them on Day 3, we end up going to Consolation and Sports Performance ends up going to Premiere.”

Southwest Minnesota won its first two games in the Consolation Division before falling to OVA 18 Molten, a Florida-based team, in the Consolation Championship.

“You have to come ready to go and play at a high level at all times. That’s really tough to do. It’s a challenging week,” Rignell said. “We went down there trying to be prepared for that, but we were just really inconsistent throughout the week and it ended up being our demise at the end.”