Kendall Lord enjoys the beach, a good barbecue and Fourth of July fireworks just as much as any other American kid, but rather than celebrate the holiday like so many others, she toasted her independence halfway across the country, playing the sport she loves.
Lord, a La Jolla resident who will be a junior next fall at The Bishop’s School, traveled with her club volleyball team to Minneapolis, Minn. to participate in the USA Volleyball Junior Olympics from July 4-7. Her team, the Encinitas Wave, was scheduled to compete in the 16-and-under open division, the top division for that age group, at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
“This is really exciting for me,” Lord said. “I think we can get pretty far there as long as we play as a team. We have strong players, and when we play as a team, we’re really on.”
Just 28 teams from across the country qualified for the event in each age group. Lord’s team got in by winning the Northwestern regional qualifier, which was held in Spokane, Wash. in March. The top three teams advanced.
Lord played in a Junior Olympic tournament last year in Atlanta, with a different club team, an experience she said will only benefit her this time around. She knows that just having been there before will help her eliminate any of the jitters a first-time player might go through at such a big event.
Last year, with the Coast Volleyball Club, she played in the American division, which isn’t as elite or competitive a level as the open division.
“In the open division, all the teams are really good, so it’s pretty much a battle every game,” Lord said. “Every game could go any way, because every team is just as good as the others. I think it will be a lot tougher this year. “Last year, I didn’t know what a big deal it was because we didn’t really expect to get there. This year, there are more expectations - I think we got ninth last year.”
Aside from switching to a new team this season, Lord has also made another huge transition - changing to a new position. After playing middle blocker and right-side hitter most of her volleyball career, she moved to setter for this club season, and there have been plenty of adjustments to make.
“It was definitely difficult coming in as a new setter on a whole new team,” Lord said, “and earning the trust of the team and the hitters. You really have to learn the trust of the hitters quickly. Especially for the middle position, it’s very connected, and you just have to talk a lot. “Socially, I had to bond with the other players on the team and get to know them.”
Lord’s decision to change over to a new club was one about which she thought long and hard. Ultimately, the decision came down to the opportunity to play at a higher level and to try a new position - the setter position was available with the Encinitas Wave, so she jumped at the chance to make the change.
“I just took the opportunity and went for it,” she said.
She said both changes - to a new spot on the court and to a new club - have turned out to be positive ones. “I love the position, and I love the club I’m at now,” she said.
Once the Junior Olympics are done this week, Lord’s club season will be over. She said she plans to play some beach volleyball and attend a couple of volleyball camps, but otherwise will recharge her battery a bit in preparation for her junior year of high school at Bishop’s and what she hopes is another good season with the Knights. She helped the team secure a 29-3 regular-season record and advance to within one game of the CIF-San Diego Section Division IV championship game last season.
She thinks the experience of having played club volleyball, especially with her new, more competitive team, in an event the caliber of the Junior Olympics, will only help her when the high school season comes around again. “All the players are your age group, and they’re from all over the place, so it’s a really competitive club and you have some of the best players from all the schools in the area,” Lord said. “I think this experience will definitely help me get better. It’s all about repetitions and experience.”