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Spiketown to Big Easy

A local volleyball team may be destined for a special national tournament in the Big Easy, but there was nothing easy about earning the opportunity.

From satisfying several on-court requirements to fundraising feverishly, there was plenty of hard work that went into Spiketown’s berth into the USA Volleyball Girls Junior National Championships in New Orleans set to begin Wednesday.

“We are so stoked,” says 15-year-old Ashley Shew, a setter for the squad. “It’s awesome to be involved in such a big tournament. It’s remarkable. We’ve worked so hard this year to get to where we are.”

The elite 15-and-under division travel club, which is 40-6 overall, secured the bid by being the top squad at that age group in the Columbia Empire Volleyball Association (CEVA), which covers all of Oregon.

Spiketown played in CEVA’s power league, participating in tournaments from January to April in Eugene, Salem and Portland. The club, playing against age 15 and 16 groups, went undefeated, going 20-0.

The squad advanced to the highest division of the CEVA regional championships and placed ninth out of 116 16U and 15U programs. Spiketown was the highest-ranked 15U team in a three-day regional championship tournament, sealing the nationals berth.

“They are training hard and having fundraisers all the time,” says co-head coach Todd Kievit. “They are looking forward to it.”

The club was successful at the Summer Soiree tournament in Anaheim, Calif., last year, taking third in the 14-and-under division out of 148 teams.

At New Orleans, the team will compete in pool play for three days before elimination rounds begin.

One activity that Spiketown has planned for the Big Easy is enjoying a river boat dinner cruise. Carmen Kievit, the other head coach, says the group will arrive a few days early to adjust to the humidity. With any luck, Carmen adds, everyone will stay healthy as they potentially try different kinds of foods, like jambalaya.

“We are all pretty excited,” says 15-year-old Ryleigh Gainey, who plays in the back row. “Just to get the opportunity is great. We are going to go there and do the best we possibly can and show what we’ve got.”

In February, Spiketown played in CEVA’s Presidents Day Tournament in Eugene and placed fifth out of 50 16U teams. The club also won tournaments at Hidden Valley and Ashland, and additionally captured first place in the highest division of the City of Medford Adult Volleyball League.

Members of Spiketown began training in December.

Co-head coaches Todd and Carmen Kievit have been married for 18 years and volleyball has been a staple of their relationship throughout.

“I taught him when we met,” Carmen says. “I said, ‘You’re gonna have to play volleyball.’

“I look at the game totally different than him. It’s a really good combination. I have strategies. He works the girls and has great ball control skill.”

Carmen Kievit founded the Spiketown Volleyball Club three years ago.

“I love those guys,” Shew says of the Kievits. “They are easily the best coaches I’ve ever had.”

St. Mary’s middle hitter Claire Hawkins, who will be a junior, has been one of Spiketown’s standouts, and South Medford outsider hitter Alyssa Vaughn (a sophomore-to-be) has also come up big often.

The other members of the team are Allison Winter (Cascade Christian sophomore), Shew (Brookings High junior), Aubrey Kievit (Madrone Trail and a high school freshman-to-be), Brea Barton (South Medford sophomore), Caroline McMahon (Grace Christian and a high school freshman-to-be), Chanel Groom (South Medford sophomore) and Gainey (Eagle Point sophomore).

Eeklyn Magee, who will be a junior next year at South Medford, played all year with the team but just missed the age requirement for nationals.

“I think we are really successful because we are all there for each other,” Gainey says. “We are there to be a team. We get along so well.”

Shew, a setter, played against Spiketown last year at Anaheim while competing for a squad from Mission Viejo, Calif. Her family moved to Brookings last summer and Shew attended Spiketown tryouts in November at Cascade Christian High.

“There aren’t any club teams in my area,” says Shew. “I knew when I moved here I’d have to do some driving to play. So I tried out for three teams that day and it turned out I loved it. As soon as I stepped foot in there I knew.”

She and her mother Lorinda now drive from Brookings to Medford two to three times a week for practices.

“It’s been a commitment, definitely,” Shew says. “We’ve had a really good time though. I’ve gotten a lot closer to (my mom).”

Portland State University assistant Eric Leibbrandt and PSU right-side hitter Aubrey Mitchell both came to Medford to offer instruction to Spiketown. Cassie Strickland, the Pac-12 libero of the year from Washington, also made the trip to offer her knowledge.

Off the court, the players taught volleyball clinics and had a yard sale to cover some of the expenses of the trip, which total thousands of dollars.

“Fundraising can be more exhausting than playing,” says Carmen Kievit.

But Spiketown did it. And now, the team is ready to take on the Big Easy.

“Of course, everyone wants to be No. 1 coming out of that thing,” says Shew. “But it’ll be a great vacation.”

Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email djones@mailtribune.com. Find him online at twitter.com/danjonesmt

Ashley Shew, left, practices with Chanel Groom at St. Mary's high School on Wednesday. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch
From left to right, Aubrey Kievit (2), Ryleigh Gainey, Ashley Shew, Breanna Barton, Chanel Groom, Allison Winter, Alyssa Vaughn and Caroline McMahon are members of the team Spiketown that is heading to the USA Volleyball Girls Junior National Championships in New Orleans. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch