Two Cardinal Newman students hope to use new skills on the volleyball court

COLUMBIA—Two volleyball players from Cardinal Newman School took their sport to the next level in July at a program that helps prepare young players who might eventually try out for the U.S. Olympic team.

Claire Edwards, 14, and Kendall Watson, 13, were in Des Moines, Iowa, July 18-29 for USA  Volleyball’s High Performance summer session: ten days of training and competition with players from all over the country.

The High Performance website describes the program as the “athlete pipeline” for volleyball players who hope to eventually reach the sport’s elite level and play on the men’s and women’s national teams.

The girls earned the trip after completing a May tryout in Atlanta with 200 other players from around the Southeast. Nationwide, about 850 players tried out for the squad.

Bob Watson, Kendall’s father and one of Cardinal Newman’s volleyball coaches, learned about the program on the internet and thought it would be a good chance for the girls, who are close friends, to learn more about their sport.

In Iowa, the girls spent up to five hours a day in training with coaches from West Virginia University and the University of Missouri, among others, and then faced five days of tournament competition. Kendall’s 11-member team finished 11th out of 18 in her age division, and Claire’s came in 10th.

Both players said the experience taught them new dimensions of the sport and gave them a chance to meet players from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, New Zealand, Chile and Brazil.

“High Performance is a lot more intense than regular high school or club play,” Claire said. “I learned a lot of new techniques, like how to hit a top spin serve.”

Claire started playing volleyball two years ago after people encouraged her to try out because of her height — 6’2”. She also plays basketball, but said she enjoys volleyball because of the excitement and challenge.

Kendall, meanwhile, has played volleyball since second grade. Her whole family is involved in the sport — mom Candi Watson played volleyball in high school and college and coaches the Cardinal Newman teams with her husband, and the other three Watson children also play.

“Going to Iowa was definitely a learning experience for me,” she said. “I had to adapt to a different level and style of play, and learned that it’s very important for a team to stay positive the entire time.”