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Volleyball team aims for national title

By: Matt Long
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Twelve girls from 10 schools have come together to form one of the top volleyball teams in the nation. Coached by Oak Ridge varsity girls’ coach Becky Potter, the Northern California Volleyball Club 16-1 Black team will compete in the Junior National Tournament to be held June 30 through July 3 in Reno. The team will be one of 32 teams competing in the open division, the highest division of the tournament. This young 16-and-under team (one junior, nine sophomores and two freshmen), has been playing together for six months, but has come together quickly. The team is blessed with talent and skill and also height, as eight of the 12 players stand at least six feet tall. That leads to some powerful hitting, which makes the team’s offense a strength. Team chemistry, however, according to Potter, is an even bigger strength. “This is probably the most fun team I’ve coached,” Potter said. “This team has been drama free and they’re so much fun. I’ve never seen a team with this type of team chemistry both on and off the court. “Defensively, we’re strong, but one of our biggest strengths is our hitting. This is also one of the most offensive teams I’ve coached.” Folsom’s Caroline Sipiora, who is an outside hitter for Vista del Lago, plays libero for Potter and has taken the change of position and ran with it. “I played libero last year for club so it hasn’t been that hard for me,” Sipiora said. “I try to be a leader in the back and be as vocal as I can communicating with the team.” Potter has enjoyed coaching Sipiora, who will be a sophomore at Vista in the fall. “She’s not that tall but she’s got huge hops and likes to hit, but she’s playing libero for us,” Potter said. “Her defense is too good for us not to play her there. She’s embraced the position and provides a lot of leadership for us as one of the most vocal girls on the team. She’s a little spitfire.” Haley Simmons, who just completed her sophomore year at Oak Ridge, played for Potter on the high school team and is reprising her role as middle blocker on the club team. “Haley has grown immensely, battling three others for the starting spot in the middle,” Potter said. “She’s one of the hardest workers and has improved the power behind her hits so much. She plays a vital role on the team.” Two players from Ponderosa High, junior Madi Macauley and freshman Alex Rader, also play on the team. Macauley is a setter, while Rader is a right side. “Madi is one of our captains and a very local leader for us,” Potter said. “She talks well with the hitters and has a great serve. Alex is probably the most improved on the team. She didn’t play much early, but has been winning position challenges in practice. She’s hitting well now.” The team has had some strong finishes this season, taking second out of 137 teams in the California Kick-Off Tournament in January; beating out 171 teams to win the President’s Day Tournament in San Jose in February, taking second in the Far Western Tournament in April to qualify for Junior Nationals and also taking third out of 96 teams in the Northern California Regionals in May. The squad has also played in other tournaments in Colorado and Washington. Despite the team’s success, Potter said the team would be underdogs at Junior Nationals. “It will be a battle at Junior Nationals,” Potter said. “Our goal is to make the top-16; I think we’d be pretty happy with that.” Sipiora agreed. “There will be a lot of good teams there,” Sipiora said. “We’re the underdogs, but I hope we do well. We have great potential. It’s the last tournament of the season so I’m hoping for the best.” Other members of the team include Rocklin’s Katelyn Ivy and Cailyn Prewitt and Micaela Leonard (Placer), Jenna Britton (Nevada Union), Paige Folger (Napa), Natalie Riddering (El Camino), Kaylin Squyres (Whitney) and Jessica Malcolm (Lodi).