Whitney Barnes, Jadyn Tubbs and Julia Handy all have something in common—their hometown is Turlock and they are part of the best U15 Club Volleyball squad in the nation.
With the help of the local talent from Turlock and Pitman High, head coach Gabe Leal led a powerful and determined squad that was not going to be denied their title this past weekend at the USA Junior National American Championships which took place at the New Orleans Morial Convention Center.
After competing in multiple U16 tournaments this season along with a U18 tournament entry, the U15 squad came into the Open Division with an unmatchable experience. The team was seeded number two after finishing first at the California qualifiers.
They also placed top three in Philadelphia and Chicago in the qualifiers which was needed in order to compete in this division.
“We were very fortunate to be able to be seeded as high as we were, especially playing in as tough of a division as we were,” said Leal. “Everyone said we were in the toughest bracket.”
It didn't faze them. Nothing did.
Underrated and working behind the scenes before the finale, the Rage were able to eke their way into a 6-2 record in pool play, which then placed them in third, good enough to advance into the crossover match and an opportunity to compete in the final eight.
The Rage found themselves facing a familiar foe, Vision Volleyball, the club based out of San Jose, and the team’s rivals over the last few years.
“They have been our rivals in every age group,” Leal said.
Last year the Rage beat them five times in straight set games. They had yet to play this season.
Eager for revenge, the Rage didn't allow it and instead beat the Vision Volleyball Club in straight sets, including bragging rights for the best U15 volleyball club in Northern California.
Most importantly the team secured a chance to play for the title.
In the first matchup, the Rage were facing a heavy favorite Texas Advantage Volleyball in the quarterfinal contest. The Rage held on to win the first game 26-24, then with the pressure on they dropped the second 13-25.
Up against the wall and on the brink of elimination, coach Leal called a timeout just before the start of the third and told his team something special.
“We only have to beat them once out of 10 times and that’s it,” he said. “Just one game to 15 and we are one game away from that medal.”
The girls responded and won 15-10, setting themselves up for a powerful matchup against Atlanta and they beat them in the third set by two points before meeting San Gabriel Elite from Southern California in the grand finale.
San Gabriel had just upset the number one team in Tampa Bay and the odds didn't seem to favor the Rage once again, but that didn't stop them.
It became clear who the best team was as the Rage upset San Gabriel in straight sets to win it, (25-16 and 20-18).
“For the final point we played low defense and the crowd erupted and we were told by several USA volleyball people one of the best finals they had ever seen,” said Leal.
The U15 Rage team ends the season with an unbelievable overall record of 71-10.
Handy was named the Most Valuable Player of the tournament and Barnes was named to the All-Tournament team for their respective age group.