Middle school volleyball team from Portland heads to national tournament in Minnesota

A group of middle school volleyball players from Portland are headed to nationals in Minnesota after placing first in the Columbia Empire regional tournament.
Published: May. 14, 2023 at 10:48 PM PDT
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WEST LINN Ore. (KPTV) - A group of middle school volleyball players from Portland are headed to nationals in Minnesota after placing first in the Columbia Empire Volleyball Association regional tournament.

The 12-member North Pacific Juniors 13U volleyball club out is proudly waving the flag toward nationals.

Lena Smith, a 12-year-old sixth grader from Boring says her team all have “good mindsets.”

“It will take a lot of talent, but I believe in us and I think we’re going to kill it when we’re there,” Smith says.

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Bumps, sets, spikes and kills are the name of their game. Gigi Girard-Martin, a 13-year-old seventh grader from West Linn, says the team has worked so hard for a chance at nationals.

“I would say, we never give up,” Girard-Martin says.

Emily Gunderson, also a 13-year-old seventh grader from Lake Oswego, says the team really loves to win.

“And we will do anything to get that,” Gunderson says. The NPJ Rose City kids are about that and now bound for the Twin Cities. Girard-Martin says it’s cool that they’ll get to represent Portland.

“And we are doing pretty well, considering we were playing 14U teams and higher levels than us,” Girard-Martin says.

What began in November will roll into June as the NPJ PDX 13′s, a second-year program, will compete in the American division of the girls national championship tournament in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Call it an early summer break. “We are going to miss the last week of school to go,” Girard-Martin says. “I’d rather be playing volleyball. It’s a way for me to just forget about everything and go and have fun, hit the ball and be with my friends. School is pretty stressful so it’s fun to get away from all of that.”

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The NPJ Salem crew is also headed to the North Star State but at the national level - a higher bid out of the Oregon and southwest Washington region.

Cally Young, Portland head coach for NPJ 13, says the experience will set the team up for success for their rest of their career.

“They are at 13 and they are going to go to nationals, it’s amazing,” Young says. “The hope is they continue to go and then, I know some of their dreams are to get scholarships and then continue that way so it’s just the beginning really - not the end!”

A stand-out at Cal Poly, this was the Bend Mountain View High graduate Young’s first year as head coach for the Portland girls.

“I’ve coached for over 15 years now with other clubs and summer camps and sometimes you just have that special group and I saw it during tryouts, it was weird, I think even the parents knew and so, yeah, it’s special,” Young says. “It’s unique.”

The NPJ 13 girl’s trip to Minneapolis will be pricy, and the team could use your help via this GoFundMe link