Jadyn Vigeland said she tried out for the Oregon Volleyball Academy 12s national team last November “just to see what would happen.”

“I just wanted to play volleyball,” Vigeland, 12, said after a team practice at Cascade Indoor Sports in Bend last week.

Twelve-year-old Siena Serpico said she was also curious to see if she could make the travel team, and she hoped that by the end of the season she would be able to serve the ball over the net.

Alexandra Acevedo, 11, had made the team the previous year but was aiming to play entire games this time around.

And Paige Capitani, also 11, just wanted to learn to hit better.

But within a few months, these girls — some of whom did not think they would even make the travel team — had sailed past their tentative goals for the season and put together one of the most successful seasons of any club volleyball team in Central Oregon, ever.

According to OVA director Turner Waskom, the 12s national squad is the first local team to win the Columbia Empire Volleyball Association regional tournament, which draws top teams from Oregon and southwest Washington. They are the first team to be ranked No. 1 in the region. They have lost only a handful of matches all season. And next week they will travel to Minneapolis to compete at the USA Volleyball Girls’ Junior National Championships against the toughest 48 teams in their age group from across the country.

It is all pretty heady stuff, especially for a team whose younger players have yet to start middle school.

“I think it’s because we have such strong chemistry between all of us,” Natalie Reveles, 12, answered when asked why she thought her team has proved to be so successful this season. “We’re all just super close and connect really easily.”

“We practice how we play — we practice hard, and it pays of the in the end,” Vigeland chimed in.

Vigeland added that she sometimes does not want to go to practice, provoking a sharp gasp and look of horror from Reveles, who apparently would never cop to wanting to skip practice.

“But once you get into it you realize that it pays off,” Vigeland continued as her teammates giggled. “You need to go to practice.”

Although several members of the team had played for 12s coach Daisy Parks during the 2015-16 season, Parks said she was not expecting this year’s edition to dominate the court.

“No, I had no clue,” Parks said. “I just came into the season as a normal season, and rolled through it like normal and was pleasantly shocked as we continued to win and didn’t lose often.”

Parks, who has coached club and high school teams for 18 years, said that this OVA team’s chemistry, determination and fun-loving youthfulness stand out. That, and how much the players really dislike losing.

“They’re more upset about losing than they are excited about winning, if that makes sense,” Parks said. “I’ve spoken to a couple colleagues of mine, and they say that’s the key right there, is that they’re extremely upset about that loss.”

Oregon Volleyball Academy has four “national” teams — the 12s, 14s, 16s and 18s — that travel to high-profile tournaments and play the top teams in their age groups. Girls who do not make a nationals team can play for a “locals” team that competes mostly in Central Oregon, or on instruction-based “academy” team.

OVA director Turner Waskom said the 12s came by their national championship ticket as a bit of a fluke — their region, CEVA, has two bids that would typically be allocated by a tournament, but not enough clubs felt confident sending their 12s club to participate in January. OVA — one of the few teams willing to participate — was automatically granted the spot at nationals. It was a huge surprise for a club that had sent three teams of any age group to nationals over the past 20 years, including one 18-and-under team that combined players from OVA and Prineville-based Rimrock Volleyball Club.

“I didn’t know they were going to win the region, which they ended up doing, but we knew they were competitive in that age group,” Waskom said.

Although it technically did not need to, the OVA 12s national went to a national qualifying tournament in Spokane, Washington, and performed well against teams from Texas and Southern California that actually needed to win to get their ticket to the national championships. In May, OVA went 6-1 in the CEVA regional championships, beating out a field of 52 teams. The team beat Portland-based Rose City Black, 24-26, 25-15, 15-6 in the final.

Serpico said that one loss at the regional tournament was actually her favorite match of the season so far.

“On the second day, the first match of the day we lost, 2-25, and it was a really good experience, how it feels to lose and come back super strong by winning the whole thing,” Serpico said. “That was my favorite.”

Her teammates went the more traditional route, saying they preferred the championship win over Rose City.

The OVA players say they fully expect the competition in Minneapolis to be the toughest they have faced so far — and they seem just fine with that.

“I think it’s going be a really big challenge for us,” Serpico said. “We’re gonna lose some, and we’re gonna win some, but that’s just going to bring us all closer together in friendship.”

—Reporter: 541-383-0305, vjacobsen@bendbulletin.com

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