MINNEAPOLIS – For most incoming freshmen, the excitement and jitters of the first year of high school are somewhat forgotten during the long summer days. Rather than stressing over school supplies, students fill their time lounging by pools, traveling and enjoying the company of friends and family.
Four Prosper girls chose to spend their summer vacations in a different way — playing the sport they love in contention for a national championship.
Incoming Prosper freshmen Samantha Jacobs, Ella Payne, Kacey Ahrens and Rachel Ward traveled to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to compete in the USAV Girls Junior National Championship with their club team, Instinct Volleyball Club. Coached by Paul Araujo and Katelyn Barnett, the girls went 10-1 over the course of the four-day tournament, losing in three tough sets in the semifinals to the eventual state champions: a team from Long Beach, California.
Out of the 4,000 teams in the 14-year-old age division in the U.S., only 184 qualify for nationals. Instinct VBC double-qualified after competing in two qualifying tournaments: MEQ in Indianapolis (runner-up) and Mizuno Lonestar Classic in Dallas (champion).
Though the third-place finish was a great experience for the girls, the season hasn’t always been easy, they said. Alexis Jacobs, mother of outside hitter Samantha, said the team was plagued with injuries this season, causing two Prosper players to be left out of the lineup in Minnesota.
“Over the course of the season we lost two players due to injuries, so our team had to make adjustments to be prepared for nationals,” Jacobs said. “Basically, our outside and right side hitters had to also play back row full time.”
The already tiny roster would take another blow, however, when the injuries continued well into the tournament. One of the setters was benched for an injury on the second day, shrinking the number of available players to eight. But coach Paula Araujo didn’t panic; rather the seasoned coach made some adjustments to assure the team put on their best performance.
“We had a couple extra practices before nationals, and I focused a lot on defense and passing with my outside and right-side hitters,” said the Brazilian native. “It was very tough because four days of tournaments are very intense. … But (my setter) did a good job and the team reacted very well.”
Despite the harships, the girls competed just as hard and were rewarded with a bronze medal for their efforts. Araujo said she was proud of the work the girls showcased, despite coming up just short of the gold medal.
“They worked hard all season long,” she said. “Coming from the ‘American Division’ (third division) to get a third place at ‘USA Division’ (second division) is a huge accomplishment.”
Outside hitter Samantha Jacobs was in awe of the experience, and was also extremely proud of her team and their journey to nationals.
“Nationals was an amazing feeling – our team has overcome so much this season,” Jacobs said. “Us winning the bronze shows how hard we work, teamwork and never giving up can help you achieve your goals. Medaling at nationals is something that very few every achieve.”
For now, Samantha and her teammates will return to Prosper to prepare for freshman camp and the upcoming high school season in the fall. They will continue to train with their club team, and hold on to the memories of a national medal for the rest of their lives.