Move over California. Make way for Kansas — the Sunflower State.
On Sunday, two Johnson County area girls — Bridget Devers, 12, from Shawnee, and Courtney Jackson, 11, of Olathe — became the first 12-and-under age group girls from outside the state of California to win the 21st Annual AAU Junior Beach National Championship in Hermosa Beach, Calif.
“They did really well,” said Ian Devers, who helps coach his daughter, Bridget, and Courtney. “The match really kind of went back and forth, but there were big swings.”
Trailing 15-10 at one point, the Johnson County girls rallied to win 21-19 for their second AAU championship this season in California.
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Winning any tournament is nice, but when you live in a landlocked state and win a beach tournament on the California coastline, the victory is a little sweeter.
Not that the girls had any doubt that they would win.
“We knew that we couldn’t lose at that point,” said Bridget, referring to her team’s several comebacks in the match. “We had to just keep going.”
The girls, who also play indoor club volleyball for Dynasty volleyball in Kansas City, have been playing together since they met last year during their first year playing for the club team.
They’ve since won tournaments in Santa Monica, Calif., Omaha and Kansas City. They’ve also earned a bid to the USA Volleyball Junior Beach Tour National Championship, which will take place the last weekend of July in Milwaukee.
They take to the sandy courts at neighborhood parks and at an indoor facility to practice, Courtney said. While they receive training from the Dynasty volleyball club, Bridget and Courtney look to their fathers on the sidelines when they play beach volleyball.
“We try to coach,” said Mike Jackson, Courtney’s father. “We’re more dads than we are coaches, but we try to give them pointers throughout the game if we see some weaknesses on the other team and stuff like that.”
Courtney is the fourth of six children in her family. She has two older brothers, an older sister and two younger sisters. She said she often practices volleyball with her older sister.
Bridget has two younger siblings who also enjoy sports. Her six-year-old brother plays baseball and her eight-year-old sister is already following in Bridget’s footsteps with volleyball.
“It’s nice to have an older sister do these things, so the younger ones can watch and hopefully do the same thing in two years,” Ian Devers said.
After Bridget and Courtney clinched the victory, they hugged each other and shook hands with their opponents before claiming their gold medals.
They celebrated with a nice meal and one more recreational match to cap off their weekend.
“We ate dinner at a restaurant and then we went to the ocean and we swam, and then we played volleyball against some boys,” Courtney said.