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V-ball tournament boosts local teams

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SANDY — Angie Johnson knows her team laid an egg at last year's Junior Olympic Girls Volleyball Championship.

"We didn't do good at all," said the High Country 16-year-old middle blocker. "It was my first year and we had no idea what to expect. We just weren't prepared."

In volleyball, particularly at a tournament in which a team plays nearly a dozen games in a few days, you must learn and move on. There's no time to mope, otherwise the domino effect takes over.

"There's a point where they need to remember, but they can't dwell on it," said Rebecca Brown, the coach of the Utah club team. "Then they'll play worse next time."

That lesson was learned the hard way in Louisville, Ky., at last year's tournament. For Johnson and her teammates, the 2000 woes have been a motivating factor all year.

What better way to make amends than by succeeding at the biggest tournament of the year at the South Towne Exposition Center in your own back yard.

"It's pretty exciting having it here," said Johnson, who also plays for Highland High School. "It's really good to see what you are up against with teams on the national level. To see how good you have to be."

On Sunday, the High Country team went 1-2 against teams from Louisiana, California and Pennsylvania. On Monday it went 2-1 against teams from Iowa, Oregon and Texas. Tuesday it's paired with an Oklahoma and New York team.

It's a unique experience facing clubs around the country, but it can also be overwhelming if players don't have the right mind-set.

The tournament is a round-robin format in the first few days. The 64 teams are divided into 16 groups with the top two from each group moving into division one and then the bottom two moving into division two. The process is repeated for the third round, and after that the teams are divided into eight different single-elimination brackets.

A team needs to win all 12 of their games to be crowned champion.

Losing twice in the opening day makes that impossible for High Country.

"You have to understand that the chance of taking first is so small," said Johnson. "But we can still play for the bronze. It's kind of discouraging, but we're here to learn."

That's one of the things coach Brown has stressed all year. The native Hawaiian, who played for BYU-Hawaii for four years in the mid-'90s, has used stories and experiences from her playing days to teach her young squad. With four NAIA national championships to her credit, she is rarely questioned by her players.

In addition to Johnson, another key player on the High Country team is high school teammate Krystal Hendrix, the daughter of former Utah football player Manny Hendrix.

"Krystal has some amazing leaping ability," said Brown.

Another player of vital importance is Kamie Afo. She's the team's most powerful hitter, according to her coach.

With solid hitting from these three guns, and good team passing, the team's weakest link all year, High Country can still finish in the top 40. It's a result they'll gladly take after last season.

Other results from other Utah teams:

Club Davis of Kaysville went 1-2 in 16 Club second-round action on Monday.

In the Club 13 division, the High Country team from Orem went 1-2 while the team from Draper went 0-3.

E-MAIL: jedward@desnews.com