The Ripon-based Rage volleyball club qualified five teams in five different divisions for the Junior Olympics beginning this week in Minneapolis, Minn. The Junior National Championship attracts nearly 9,500 volleyball players and over 20,000 spectators annually.
With a strong college preparation club, the Rage, who have been around for six years now, will be competing amongst the best volleyball clubs in the country in arguably the biggest event for college recruits to seek their next top athlete.
"We have eight teams at Rage, and we're strong on college prep and getting to nationals is a high goal for all of our stronger teams because that is where most college recruits are to scout girls and offer scholarships… this is the biggest event," said Rage club representative Dave Collins.
A total of 10 athletes from the Turlock and Hilmar area are currently participating in this tournament in their respective divisions with sights on capturing the eye of the scouts and perhaps bringing home a national title.
The 14s and 18s will compete in the open division, each going up against the nation's top 32 teams within their respective age group while the 15s and 16s will play in the "American" division and 17s will compete in the "USA" division.
Winning the Western Junior qualifier playing against the toughest competition from Northern California, Hawaii and Washington with a perfect 9-0 record in three days helped secure their spot in the big tourney.
Whitney Barnes, Audrey Dykzeul, Kennedy Folly, Jadyn Tubbs and Kaylin Randhawa are all from Turlock on the squad and Julian Handy is on the team from Hilmar.
“This team went undefeated as a 14 year old team, every time they faced a team from this age, they never lost one, [they] won every single match,” Collins said. “The core has been there for three years and this team won the Northern California power league champions.”
Hilmar High volleyball standout Emily Baptista leads the 16s in the American division after already getting heavily recruited by numerous Division I schools, with University of Pacific currently topping the list.
The 6-foot-1 outside hitter just ended her sophomore season with a record-breaking season for Hilmar's volleyball team and will enter this fall as a junior with room for improvement.
“I have colleges calling me or emailing me nonstop about Emily. She is one of the strongest outside hitters in Nor Cal for the 16 age group… her outside hits are remarkable,” said Collins.
Pitman’s Madelyn Halteman and Ashleigh Phelps are on the Rage’s division for the 17-year-olds and are amongst the top players competing in the USA division.
Halteman is a strong leader and fluid while Phelps is the libero and a great player for the Pride as she led a strong defense in converting powerful and uncontrolled hits by setting up her team with clean passes in order for the offense to be able to strike with ease.
Lindsey Vander Weide of Pitman has already verbally committed to University of Oregon heading into her senior year of play at the high school but before she does that, she is one of the leaders of the Rage’s 18-year-old squad in perhaps the biggest setting of her life.
Vander Weide was moved up a year because she needed to challenge herself and it didn’t take long for a big college to spot her ability.
“She is just an amazing athlete from a great family and a strong player. We got calls from all over the country and we're excited she picked Oregon… great kid and great fit,” Collins added. “It is really a good size for the population of Turlock for putting out great volleyball players.”