CHICAGO — Highland High School volleyball player Raina Terry has dreamed about playing Mintonette Volleyball ever since she was in middle school, watching her big sister (former Highland star Kam Terry) play for them.
Now, she is in Chicago on a Mintonette team with a bunch of other stars, including another local favorite —Emily Londot of Utica High School. They and their teammates are in the windy city for a Junior Olympics national qualifier this weekend.
“I was watching them when I was 11 and I remember thinking, ‘Oh they’re so good and I so want to play for them,’” Raina Terry said. “So, when I was 13, my mom let me play here. It has been such a great experience. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I love the Mintonette.”
The 71s are currently the number three ranked team in their age group, nationally. This weekend, they’re looking to better their ranking and improve their seeding for the Junior Olympic Nationals this July in the Indianapolis Convention Center.
“In a national qualifier, you get a bid to the Junior Olympic Nationals,” Terry said. “Right now, our team already has a bid. We got that in Indianapolis a couple of weeks ago. So now, we are just trying to raise our seed. We want to be the No. 1 seed, when we get to nationals, because we’ll have the easiest route to get to the National Championship. That’s why we want to win this weekend.”
Terry and Londot are two of five players already committed to go on and play for Big 10 schools on the ‘71s’ team in Mintonette Volleyball. Of the 10 players on the team, nine are committed to Division I colleges.
“The last girl is still looking into colleges,” Londot said. “Hopefully, we can get her to Division I. That would be awesome.”
With a team this loaded, it would hardly seem fair to the other teams, but the competition is ferocious.
“On this team, we have so many hitters that can put the ball away,” Terry said. “The ball is spread out more and that’s helpful because, if somebody is getting the swings all the time, their legs would get tired. I don’t get as many balls as I do on my high school team, but that works for our team and it’s more successful for us.”
This 71s team has one ingredient that may put them over the top.
“There’s a lot of good teams, here,” Londot said. “We’re ranked No. 2 in this weekend’s tournament. We aren’t the most athletic, but we have the best team chemistry. We’re all close, on and off the court. We spend weekends together and, when we’re not together, we Facetime each other. We’re constantly talking. We’re like a bunch of sisters.”
Mintonette has 10 teams in different age groups that have qualified for the Nationals this year. Mintonette uses two digit team names, where the first digit denotes the age group and the second digit is the team number.
Aside from Terry, there will be eight other Highland players, going to the Nationals in June, in different age groups. They are: Bridget Oder (who plays for the 82s), Makenna Belcher 62s, Ashlynn Belcher 51s, Kendall Stover 15 (Green), Zoya Winkelfoos 42s, Brooke Schott 42s, Larsen Terrill 31s and Bryleigh Young 21s. Winklefoos and Schott will be freshmen at Highland this fall. Larsen Terrill and Young are in middle school and will be seventh graders this fall. Of course, no matter the age, players are expected to keep up with their studies.
“It’s always a challenge,” Terry said. “Being a student athlete is always a challenge, but you have to do what you have to do — no matter how late you are staying up to finish your work. You have to keep high grades if you want to be successful.”
It’s even tougher for Londot in the winter, so she really had to learn to manage her time.
“During the basketball season, I played both basketball and travel volleyball,” Londot said. “That left me little time after school. I just made sure that, during school, I was working every minute I could, including study halls. I didn’t take any breaks, because I had to get the work done.”
Terry and Londot are accustomed to being on different sides of the net. Playing on the same team has been a new experience for both.
“What it has been like is that, Emily is such a sweetheart,” Terry said. “When I play on my high school team in the fall and we have to face Emily, everyone is worried about her, because we are rather undersized and some of us are saying, ‘Oh my gosh! She’s so tall. She’s so intimidating.’ But, she’s so nice and she is such a supportive teammate. Whenever we need her to put a ball away in tight games, she’s always there.”
It has been a good experience for both.
“Having Raina on my side is a really good thing,” Londot said. “That means I don’t have to block her. I’m encouraging her to get more aggressive at the net. I’m just glad I’m not the one getting hit in the face.”