Westminster sophomore Jilienne Widener tried out for and attended the Team USA High Performance Training Program for the third year in a row. This summer, she did not go alone.
Widener, the 2016 Times Volleyball Player of the Year, and her Owls teammate Emily Bartlett attended High Performance Training tryouts at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia in April. She presented the idea of trying out to Bartlett, who thought it would be a great opportunity and, together, they ran with it.
"I told her she [Bartlett] should try out because I know she has a lot of talent and knew she would make it," Widener said. "She's one of my best friends and I wanted her to experience it with me. We just wanted to go, have fun and whatever happens happens - let's not stress about it. We both made the team and not a lot of people get this opportunity so it's really cool."
According to Team USA Volleyball's website, the High Performance Program bridges the gap between the USA National Teams and youth volleyball programs across the country. This is done through a system of national tryouts which then qualify athletes for training programs, camps and Youth and Junior Nationals Teams.
This program is considered a conduit for volleyball athletes who aspire to reach the elite level of their sport and is designed to increase the number of talented young players who could someday compete for a spot on the USA National and Olympic Teams.
The girls traveled to Philadelphia in April to try out together at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Each tryout was about four hours long, Bartlett said. She made the A3 team that competed at the University of New Orleans where players were mixed with other teams to compete against one another.
"It was all a really nerve-wracking thing at first," Bartlett, a 2016 Times first team all-countian said. "I was very timid at first and Jilienne had known what the process was like so she was very helpful in trying to calm me down and make me to better. We got to warm up together which was really cool because we are in two different age groups so we got to work off each other."
Widener made the USA Girls' Select A1 National Training Team Program for a second straight year. The team came in third place in the Women's International Youth Division at the Broward County Convention Center in Ft. Lauderdale, two divisions higher than what they should have been in, Widener said. She was competing against freshmen and sophomores in college and it gave her a burst of confidence, once the nerves subsided.
"It was really cool and I have a big goal set for myself," Widener said. "I want to play in college and this prepared me for the future. It really helped me get better and make me realize what potential I have and that I can actually compete with these older girls and keep up with them."
Widener started playing in tournaments at Penn State when she was 7 years old and since then, it has remained her dream school. She added that her and Bartlett try to attend a Penn State volleyball game together once a year.
Bartlett competed in New Orleans for five days in the middle of July and Widener was in Florida from July 13-23. The girls agreed that this experience was the best way to learn and grow as a player, especially with volleyball season nearing.
"It was probably one of the best things I've done and I got to meet a lot of new people from all around the country," Bartlett said. "I'm pretty sure I met someone from every state. All the coaches were super helpful. There were coaches designed for my specific team and position so I got to work pretty much one-on-one with every coach. They gave me a lot of tips and feedback and pushed me to be at my best.
"The level of play was super high so it was a great environment to grow, learn and have fun."