Kentwood star leads volleyball team in Dallas tourney

Lauren Campbell delivered the look.

Kent Juniors take fifth place at Junior Olympic Championships

Lauren Campbell delivered the look.

And Jessie Genger promptly delivered the play last Monday evening that propelled the Kent Juniors 17 Baden team to a level it had not been.

Competing in the Junior Olympic Girls’ Volleyball Championships in Dallas — a tournament for the elite of the elite — the Kent-based team was in need of a victory to advance to the prestigious Gold Bracket.

It was win or go home for the Kent squad, which includes a handful of South County’s top players – among them, Kentwood’s Campbell, Genger, Stephanie Shumaker and Kentlake’s Kelcee Merritt.

Kent, which competed in the Open Division, entered the Sunday night match against Vision 17 Gold out of California having won three of its previous six matches. Leading Vision 17 in the fifth and deciding game, 14-12, Genger stepped up and provided the match-clinching block, pushing Kent into the Gold Bracket.

“Lauren Campbell looked over (to me) and said, ‘You’re just going to stuff her,’” recalled Genger, who was named the South Puget Sound League North Division’s MVP last fall. “It wasn’t a super block, but it came at a really good time.”

Kent trailed the California-based team in games, 2-1, but managed to rally back to earn the 18-25, 26-24, 21-25, 25-17, 15-12 win.

“It was shock,” Genger added. “Everybody ran onto the court, one girl even stood on the court crying. We worked so hard, went through so much adversity and it paid off right there.

“It was such a sense of accomplishment.”

Kent, which entered the tournament seeded seventh out of seven teams in its pool, went on to take fifth place overall in the 28-team field.

“We came in with a really low seed,” said coach Kellie Ryan, a 1988 graduate of Auburn High School. “Everybody didn’t think we’d be much of a challenge.”

How huge was advancing to the Gold Bracket?

“It’s the hardest division to qualify for,” Ryan explained. “It’s basically professional volleyball for 17-year-olds.”

Few were better than Genger, who collected 13 kills, four blocks and three aces in the pivotal match.

The Junior Olympic championships is considered head-and-shoulders bigger than the state tournament, as well.

“I don’t even know if it can be compared to that,” Genger said. “(And getting to the Gold Bracket) is the best finish spot anybody in our region has ever done. Being in the highest division … I can’t explain how big it is.”

Marlayna Geary added 13 kills in the victory against the Californians. Elizabeth Radich and Alyssa Schultz chipped in 12 kills apiece.

Kent dropped its final match of the tournament in three games to Epic 17 of California. In all, Kent won four of its eight matches.

“I feel like we peaked at the perfect time,” Ryan said. “They’ve trained together three times a week since December. They just continued to get better and better and better.”

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