Courtesy of Jenine Alftin
Christine Alftin finished her career with Vision volleyball by helping the 18 Gold squad take seventh place at the Junior Nationals in Minneapolis this week.
Vision 18 Gold entered Tuesday’s final round of the USAV Girls’ Volleyball Junior Nationals knowing its medal hopes had been dashed.
The Los Gatos-based club team soldiered through the silver-round finals, the second tier of four teams, on the final day of competition at the Minneapolis Convention Center to finish seventh in the nation in the 18 Open tourney. And the team almost had to go without one of its top players — Christine Alftin.
Alftin — the volleyball superstar who recently graduated from Woodside, and as a senior captured Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division Player of the Year honors — awoke Monday prior to the third day of the four-day event with tonsillitis. She missed just one match to fill a prescription, however, and rejoined the team for the start of second-round play.
With Alftin back on the court, Vision won its first semifinal matchup before dropping two straight to finish its season.
“She played great,” Vision head coach Jason Mansfield said. “So, I was really proud of her for staying up and overcoming adversity. Everyone played well, but she kind of gave us the shot in the arm we needed.”
Through all its success on the club volleyball circuit in recent years, Vision’s main nemesis has proven to be Minnesota’s Northern Lights.
Since last year’s Junior Nationals, also in Northern Lights’ backyard of Minneapolis, the volleyball powerhouse has held Vision in check. Northern Lights got the better of Vision last season as Vision failed to advance past pool play. When the two teams met earlier this year at the Denver qualifier in March, Northern Lights again prevailed to take the gold medal, while Vision settled for silver.
So, if there was only one match Alftin would have chosen to play in this season, it would have been the Northern Lights rematch when the teams met in the final game of pool play Monday.
Fate, however, had other ideas.
Vision had posted a 5-1 record through two days of pool play Saturday and Sunday. But Monday at 4 a.m., Alftin awoke with a sore throat. She said she camped out in the bathroom of her hotel room as not to wake up the teammates with whom she was rooming.
Fortunately for Alftin, the father of Vision teammate Lizzie Tardieu is a doctor, and was in Minneapolis to watch the tournament. According to Alftin, he diagnosed her with tonsillitis and wrote her a prescription. She missed just one match as a result — the rematch with Northern Lights.
In the grand scheme of pool play, the match was incidental. Vision had already qualified for semifinals. And after Northern Lights downed Vision in straight sets, Alftin rejoined the team for the first semifinal match against Texas Advantage later that morning.
Vision downed Texas Advantage in straight sets, 26-24, 25-20.
“Every point was a struggle because I couldn’t breathe,” Alftin said. “There were so many people watching, so that was a lot of pressure on us. I’m pretty sure there were five or six times where I actually stopped to untie and retie my shoe to buy time.”
It would be the last victory of Vision’s season, as the team was knocked out of medal contention in a grueling match with Indiana’s Circle City to complete Monday play. Circle City triumphed 25-17, 27-29, 15-10.
“It was a really great match,” Alftin said. “I wouldn’t say we lost the match. I would say we got beat because they were a lot better than us. They were so talented. … That was the match to get a medal so we were all really, really bummed.”
Circle City qualified for the gold-round finals to compete for a medal and went on to share third place with South Carolina’s A5. A pair of Southern California teams swept the top two spots as San Diego’s Wayne Area Volleyball Enthusiasts took second and San Diego’s Coast took first.
“We had a great shot to win the whole thing and we almost beat the eventual champion on Day 1,” Mansfield said. “We were definitely right there to do that. We didn’t finish the way we wanted to … but overall it was a great year.”
Vision matched up with the eventual champs in the first day of pool play, with Coast prevailing 28-26, 25-21.
“We had a couple game points and just couldn’t close it out,” Mansfield said.
Alftin said she had one of those game points in her sights and just missed long.
“I actually hit it out because the nerves got the best of me and I swung too hard and it went long,” Alftin said. “[The point] was totally there and I let it go.”
Otherwise, Vision was flawless through the first two days of pool play. Alftin brought her signature service prowess to the line in Monday’s opener, and along with service runs from Tardieu and Maddy Dilfer downed Metro American Volleyball Club of Washington D.C., 25-13, 25-16. In the second game against Southern California’s Laguna Beach, Vision won convincingly, 25-7, 25-23.
Vision swept its three Sunday games, downing Texas’ Skyline, 25-23, 25-14; Texas’ Arlington Courts Elite 25-23, 25-19; and Washington state’s Kent Juniors, 25-16, 26-28, 18-16.
Alftin won bronze two years ago with the Vision 17 squad. And as she prepares to move into the Cal dorms this weekend as she embarks on a promising collegiate career, she expressed pride in the closing of her Vision career.
“Anything top eight in the nation is incredible,” she said. “This team, we were kind of raw in the beginning. And [Mansfield’s] coaching was so incredible and we worked hard every day at every practice and we got so much better.”
Vision’s youngest player, 16-year-old Ronicka Stone, who recently completed her sophomore year at Valley Christian, was named to the All-Tournament team. Vision graduates eight players from this year’s squad, including Alftin and Menlo grad Maddie Huber, who will attend Princeton in the fall.
“All eight of them have a shot to contribute to their teams next year,” Mansfield said. “It’s rare that I say that about an entire group of seniors.”