Going for gold: Students compete at Junior Olympics

Kaelin Kragh

 

AIMING FOR THE goal, junior Ashley Lamar shoots the ball during a scrimmage on Aug. 25.
AIMING FOR THE goal, junior Ashley Lamar shoots the ball during a scrimmage on Aug. 25.

Suspense filled the gymnasium at game point as senior Claire Jackson and her Absolute Volleyball Club team battled for the win in order to qualify to be in the top bracket of teams in the country. The opposing team’s star player went in for a spike, but senior McKenzie Cooke dove for the dig, ultimately setting Jackson up perfectly for her powerful spike. She scored the winning point.

While the 2016 Rio Olympic games received plenty of publicity, the annual 2016 Junior Olympics did not. Despite their relative unpopularity, this past summer athletes on both the Redwood girls’ varsity volleyball team and water polo team competed in their respective events.

Jackson, who committed to Rutgers University over the summer to pursue her volleyball career, attended the Junior Olympics this July in Indianapolis along with fellow Redwood and Absolute Volleyball Club teammates McKenzie Cook, Ella Spaethling, Carly Zech, Brittney Klein and Olivia Cooper. The U17 team placed 29th in the highest level bracket, which is referred to as the “Open Bracket”, and is composed of the best teams in the nation.

“Junior Olympics is different from other events because there are so many more teams with varying skill levels that we usually wouldn’t get the opportunity to play against,” Jackson said.

Being able to attend such a notable tournament creates chemistry between teammates on and off the court, according to Jackson.

“It’s super important to understand each person and the way they deal with pressure,” Jackson said. “Junior Olympics creates a great bonding experience for the team, which gives our team a lot of momentum on the court.”

Jackson also noted that the Junior Olympics is one of the last tournaments of the club season, making it an opportunity to showcase the skills she and her teammates have accumulated during that season.

 

Several athletes from the Redwood girls’ varsity water polo team attended the competition as well and considered it to be a pivotal learning experience.

“Getting to spend four days with your teammates really helps to improve the bonding aspect of water polo,” said junior Ashley Lamar. “Even though there were some bumps in the games where we could have performed better, it gave us the opportunity to fix everything we weren’t doing as well.”

Playing against teams who share a mutual passion for the sport is the most rewarding aspect of the Junior Olympics, according to junior Caitlin Donnelly.

“Knowing you’re in a competition with some of the best water polo teams from around the nation is a really inspiring and rewarding experience,” Donnelly said. “I remember being young and watching my brother playing water polo at the Junior Olympics, and it was something I really aspired to do.”

Lamar and Donnelly, along with fellow varsity teammates junior Jackie Judd and senior Jacqueline Racich, attended the games with their Sleepy Hollow Aquatics (SHAQ) club team.

Donnelly, along with her SHAQ teammates, competed in the rigorous water polo competition in Sacramento, Calif., from July 28 to 31. Although it was Donnelly’s fifth year participating, she described the Junior Olympics as an unforgettable event that enabled the growth of her team, not only in terms of skill but in terms of personal relationships amongst her teammates as well.

“Junior Olympics is a place where you can create friendships that could last a lifetime,” Lamar said. “You could tell a difference in how well we played together just by those two days from hanging out with each other.”