Jesse Jones / Union Democrat Six Sonora Wildcats (above, from left), freshman Riley Patterson, seniors Leah Dambacher, Bailey Henington, Shannon Friend and juniors Kiana Pisula and Kelsie Evans will compete later this month at the 35th annual USA Volleyball Girlsâ Junior National Championships in Minneapolis.
Six Sonora Wildcats will compete with their respective club teams at the 35th annual USA Volleyball Girls' Junior National Championships onJune 24 to July 3in Minneapolis.
"It's pretty uncommon for a school of our size to have this many of its volleyball players attending the national championships," said Sonora Wildcat head coach Kim Evans. "It's something that the program has never had before. It puts us at a very high level of play, which is exciting for Sonora High and Tuolumne County, and makes our fall look very inviting."
Leah Dambacher, Shannon Friend and Bailey Henington's Rage Volleyball Club 17 team, a club based out of the Ripon and Stockton areas, earned a trip to nationals after securing the American bid in the Southern California Tournament in March.
Dambacher, Friend and Henington were key members of the 2013 Sonora Wildcat team that captured the school's first Division IV Sac-Joaquin Section Volleyball Championships and finished just one game shy of playing for the state title.
All three will be entering their senior seasons in August.
"All our hard work paid off," Friend said. "I was just super excited because it was our first year on Rage, and to be going to Junior Olympics for the first time, is a good experience."
Kelsie Evans, competing with Rage Volleyball Club 16, will also head to nationals. Her team earned a National bid at the Northern California Regional Tournament in Reno in May.
Evans, as a sophomore last year, was also along for Sonora's unprecedented ride to the state Final Four.
"I played volleyball for a very long time and it's finally starting to really pay off in my mind," Kelsie Evans said. "This is what I have been working for since I was 11. Just finally getting to grasp that is amazing.
"It's going to be great seeing that my teammates are going to be there too. It's a lot more of a homey feeling, and not so foreign going all the way out there."
Incoming Wildcat freshman Riley Patterson will suit up with Rage Volleyball Club 14. Her team won the American bid at the Far Westerns Tournament in Reno in May.
And Kiana Pisula, a sophomore on the Wildcats section championship team last season, will also head to nationals with Lodi's Delta Valley Volleyball Club 16 squad. Pisula's team solidified its spot by earning a National bid at the Northern California Regional Tournament in Reno in May.
"These girls have worked very hard to be where they are," Kim Evans said. "I couldn't be more proud of the position that they put themselves in."
This will mark Pisula's second straight appearance at the tournament. Although her team did not qualify last year, she was pulled up to play with an older squad.
In order to receive a trip to nationals, a team must earn a bid by coming in first, second or third at a qualifying tournament held across the U.S., Kim Evans said, or by earning enough points in its respective region throughout the season.
"It is very hard to qualify to go, especially so many girls from such a small town," Kim Evans said. "Pretty darn cool."
Other recent Tuolumne County natives who have competed at the nationals include Summerville grads and Division I players Rachel Dunlap and Breeann Robinson.
Dunlap will be a senior at Central Connecticut State this fall and Robinson is an incoming freshman at San Jose State.
"When I played at the Junior Olympics, just seeing the best competition in our country was just phenomenal," Dunlap said. "It really puts you in retrospective, 'How good am I? I lost to that team. OK, so maybe I'm not as good, so I have to work harder.' It's a really good measurement. Mentally, it's good for you, and then you get to play against the best people in the nation. I think it's great that these girls will get to play against the best in the nation. It's going to push them."