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Eagles flock to the next level

Vetterlein, Russell, Lehner to play volleyball at Division II schools
By: Ray Hacke Journal Sports Writer
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Jamie Russell was determined not to let an ankle injury derail her college volleyball dreams – even if the injury did cost her most of her junior season. So after a five-month layoff, the Del Oro High middle blocker devoted herself to getting back into volleyball shape. With some help from Golden Eagles coach Stuart Kageta, the work paid off. Russell led Del Oro in kills and blocks last season en route to earning a partial scholarship to the University of Alaska-Anchorage. “Mentally, I was ready to get back into the game because volleyball’s been part of my life for so long,” Russell said. “Physically, I was weak, so it was difficult to come back to the same level I was at before the injury. “But Coach Kageta worked with me and I did some outside training, and I pushed through.” Russell is one of three Del Oro seniors who will playing for NCAA Division II schools on partial scholarships next fall. Setter Jessica Lehner is headed for Cal State Stanislaus in Turlock, while right-side hitter Rachel Vetterlein is bound for Cal State East Bay in Hayward. Like Russell, Lehner and Vetterlein had to overcome obstacles to earn the chance to play at the next level. Lehner, for instance, has an ongoing battle with diabetes. “I overcome it by testing my blood sugar regularly and knowing where I’m at before a match,” Lehner said. “I know I’ll hurt the team if my (blood-sugar level) numbers aren’t where they’re supposed to be.” Vetterlein suffered a knee injury this past season that limited her playing time. ‘This was the first injury I’ve had that affected a season like it did,” Vetterlein said. “I’d never had to miss a game or a match before.” Yet all three girls managed to clear the hurdles they needed to for Del Oro to be successful on the volleyball court. The Golden Eagles went 23-11 last season and advanced to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III semifinals. Both Russell and Lehner were named to the All-Sierra Foothill League first team. In addition to leading Del Oro with 174 kills and 45 blocks, Russell had 25 digs and 20 service aces. “A lot of coaches within the league said she was difficult to defend against,” Kageta said. Lehner, meanwhile, dished out 700 assists (averaging 6.9 per game), led the Golden Eagles in service aces with 58 and recorded 87 digs. She was also chosen to play in the Optimist All-Star Game, as was Vetterlein, who was fourth on the Golden Eagles in kills (116) and third in both aces (31) and blocks (30). Russell and Lehner are joining teams that have struggled in recent years. Last season Alaska-Anchorage had its first winning season (15-14) in six years, while Cal State Stanislaus went 6-24. Vetterlein is joining a Cal State East Bay squad that is making the jump to Division II after going 29-5 in its final Division III campaign last spring. “I get to play against Rachel next season,” Lehner said. “It will be fun to see her.” While her teammates chose to stay close to home, Russell is leaving the California sunshine for a school located near the North Pole. “She told me she wanted to play somewhere where it was cold,” Kageta said. “I told her, ‘You picked the right place.” “I’ve always been the type of person who liked cold weather,” Russell said. “I enjoy the snow and the rain. I don’t like the sun, and ironically I grew up in California, one of the sunniest places you can be. “I’m white for sure,” she added, laughing. “I’m not tan. In Alaska, I’m basically safe. In California I got sunburned.” Though currently undeclared, Russell plans on majoring in civil engineering at Alaska-Anchorage. Lehner will start out as a business major, while Vetterlein plans to start out in psychology. All three girls hope to be immediate contributors when they join their respective teams this fall. “My main goal is to come in as a freshman and start — or at least play, get out on the floor and contribute,” Russell said. “My main goal is to improve enough to be a contributor for the team.” “I really want to step up my level personally and overcome my fear of playing in a whole new place with a whole new team,” Vetterlein said. “My coach said I can be a really good asset to the team, and hopefully that’s how it goes.” Lehner said it was a special thing that she and two of her teammates are all moving on to the Division II level. “We’ve worked hard throughout the years and helped each other get better,” she said.