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updated: 5/28/2010 11:43 PM

The volleyball, food different in Japan

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Kelsey Robinson has probably kicked carbs for good after a week in Japan.

"I will never eat rice again," she said.

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Of course, the recent St. Francis graduate took home much more than that.

Robinson and several other area volleyball standouts including Kristen Kelsay and Meg Vonderhaar (St. Francis), Meghan Haggerty and Jenna Jendryk (Benet) and Catie Cremin (Naperville North) traveled to Osaka, Japan, in April with the Sports Performance 18 Elite team.

There they were hosted by Toray Arrows, a Japanese professional team, training and playing against them during the week. A highlight was meeting Cynthia Barboza, a two-time National Gatorade Player of the Year now playing with the Arrows.

"They smoked us," Robinson said of the pro team, "but it was a good experience."

Japanese volleyball is a different game than Robinson and her friends are used to.

"We were very big compared to them," she said, "and we play with a lot of power and try to outplay teams offensively. Their game is a lot quicker. I can hit my best shot and it would be (dug) up. Their defense is amazing."

Robinson won't complain again about 13-hour practice weeks after watching the Japanese and their work ethic.

"They're practicing 30 hours a week," she said, "and smiling all the time. They literally live volleyball."

The girls stayed in dorms. A 2-mile walk to the gym allowed for a gorgeous view of the mountains, a sight unfamiliar to girls living in Illinois flatlands. A train ride took them to the 131-meter tall Kyoto Tower, the tallest building in Japan.

Eating with chopsticks every day Robinson also got to experience authentic Japanese cuisine. "A pancake thing with octopus and scallops" stood out.

"I'm not a big seafood person," she said, "but I thought I might as well try it."

Sports Performance is hosting the National Junior Classic this weekend and the Great Lakes Center Pre-National meet June 12-13. After Nationals in Florida, Robinson reports to Tennessee for summer school on July 5.

Me and my alma mater: A couple first-round surprises in the softball playoffs have set up intriguing regional finals.

At West Chicago, No. 11 seed Wheaton Warrenville South's win over Bartlett probably falls under the category of "mild upset" considering the Tigers had won six of seven coming in. Now they'll face West Chicago - coached by former WW South pitcher Emily Johnson (Emily Montesano in her Tigers days). A much more stunning upset was York's 8-7 win over Daily Herald top-ranked St. Charles North team. Now York faces off with Wheaton North - coached by ex-Duke Karen Calabrese.

Familiar face, new place: Class 3A state girls basketball champion Montini will have a familiar face in Lombard next year.

Two-time All-Area guard Kasey Reaber has transferred from Immaculate Conception to Montini for her senior season. As a sophomore Reaber was the starting point guard for 2A champion - and Montini archrival - Driscoll before leading IC to a sectional final for the first time since 1980.

Reaber joins a talented backcourt that includes Notre Dame recruit Whitney Holloway as well as Division I prospect Kiki Wilson, Montini's top sub as a junior.

jwelge@dailyherald.com

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