Among 120 courts at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Florida, two Jackson County girls competed with 79 of the best 13-year-old volleyball clubs in the country and from around the world.
Kendall Schaefer and Bailey Reynolds, both students at Immanuel Lutheran School in Seymour, recently traveled to the Sunshine State with the East Columbus 13 Flames to test their skills at the 42nd AAU Girls Junior National Volleyball Championships.
With a 10-2 finish, the Flames finished third in the 13 Classic competition. The Flames dropped just one game in pool play to Lone Star from Texas.
The Flames finished their tournament run facing the eventual national champions, the Club Fusion Red from Chicago.
With just nine girls on the team, the Flames were one of the smaller squads in the tourney.
Reynolds, an incoming seventh-grader, was named to the nine-girl all-star team at the closing ceremonies.
“We had a lot of energy,” Reynolds said. “Every game, we were so pumped and ready to win. We really worked together. I just felt so amazed that we had come all this way.”
As a middle hitter and back-row specialist, Reynolds finished the tournament with four kills, 10 blocks and 38 aces, served 93 percent and had 92 percent passing.
“She was an all-around player,” coach Faith Wilder-Newland said. “I didn’t know Bailey until late in the fall at some open-gym type things. I was impressed at how she played under control. She was humble, she was a team player, and the team members, all of them worked as a team.”
Schaefer, an incoming eighth-grader, played as a setter and right-side hitter and had 12 kills, one ace, five serving points, one block and five setting assists.
“It was kind of hard to hear which whistle was on our court,” Schaefer said of the massive convention center. “You would hear the ref blow their whistle on the court next to us, and we would have to look at our ref to make sure it wasn’t on us. It was a little confusing and intimidating, but still awesome.”
Both girls plan on continuing to play volleyball into the school year.
“I love volleyball so much,” Schaefer said. “When I’m on the court, I feel like there’s nowhere else I would rather be.”