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updated: 12/5/2016 4:12 PM

Buffalo Grove's Akiyoshi excels in spite of POTS challenge

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Many of those who followed area girls volleyball the past few years knew Buffalo Grove's Kiarra Akiyoshi was one of the top liberos in the Mid-Suburban League.

What many didn't know, is that while she was picking up countless digs and serving as the Bison captain, she was also dealing with a health condition that made her achievements all the more impressive.

Prior to her junior season, Akiyoshi was diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), a dysfunction of the autonomic (automatic) nervous system.

It can affect pretty much anything the body does naturally for you without you thinking about it. The primary symptoms are rapid heart rate and very low blood pressure.

Kiarra would also experience bad headaches, nausea, dizziness, fatigue and more.

"I try to sleep well, eat right, do school work in advance in case I miss classes (not feeling well), rest whenever I can, and do my best to stay healthy in general," she said.

Volleyball has always been Akiyoshi's outlet so she was determined to not let the symptoms hold her back.

Flare-ups of POTS can happen randomly or after pushing too hard or experiencing too much stress (physical or mental).

"I've learned how to deal with it and I have definitely gotten a lot better," Akiyoshi said. "As medications were tweaked and added, I have improved."

This past fall, Akiyoshi was named an all-area player for the second year in a row. The senior contributed 388 digs and served at a 93 percent rate with 24 aces.

Her coach, Matt Priban, said, "Kiarra's leadership on and off the court is exemplary. She has a great ability to read the game and communicate with her teammates. She is extremely driven and competitive."

Which obviously didn't always come easy.

She always had to be prepared for what she called a "bad day."

Akiyoshi takes four different medications each day to keep her heart working better but still not exactly the way a normal body would.

Researchers say that it takes someone with POTS three times the energy to do something as someone without it.

Exercise is important so volleyball is actually helpful as long as it is not too much.

Akiyoshi also has to eat often, drink a lot of water, rest, and eat a high-sodium diet.

"It was difficult to accept that I would never be able to play club anymore and that I would have to give up my hopes of playing at the collegiate level," she said. "But I'm so thankful that I was able to play in my last two high school seasons. My coach was very helpful and understanding especially because I couldn't always do all the tough conditioning, even when I really wanted to push myself."

Akiyoshi also credits her teammates.

"They could easily recognize when I didn't feel well and they looked out for me a lot, which also helped tremendously in dealing with everything," she said.

"I'm pretty stubborn and determined to always do my best, so sometimes I just needed one of my teammates to be like, 'You look dizzy. Sit down. It's OK.' "

It was her passion for the sport that kept her playing at a top level.

"Basically, my love for volleyball has been too strong to be hindered by any of my symptoms," Akiyoshi said. "Each time I played a game, even if I didn't feel well, I usually just forgot about anything besides what was happening on the court."

Alexa Ben honored

DePaul junior Alexa Ben (Schaumburg) was named to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America Division I All-America Team.

The dynamic midfielder was a third-team selection and becomes DePaul's second all-American in program history.

Ben had 7 goals and 3 assists while helping lead the Blue Demons to the Big East Conference regular-season title and a berth in the conference championship semifinals. She missed two games with an injury.

With one season to go, Ben is second all-time in career assists with 21 and needs five in her senior year to tie for the lead.

Ben is fourth all-time in career goals with 20 and third in career points with 61.

"It's a little unreal being such a high honor," Ben said in a news release from DePaul. "Being mentioned with all the top players in the country is pretty awesome.

"My main goal this season was to help the team and I never thought about individual awards. I am more concerned with winning the Big East regular-season title, winning the conference tournament and winning an NCAA tournament game. That would be so much greater than any individual award."

Ben made sure to share the honor with her teammates.

"Everyone on the team worked so hard and came together so well as we wanted to improve on our 2015 season," Ben said. "We all worked toward a common goal and developed a strong chemistry. Our coaching staff pushed us every day and made us into the best team we could be."

DePaul coach Erin Chastain offered her praise of Ben in the release from Assistant Director of Athletics Communications Bob Sakamoto.

"I am so incredibly proud of Alexa," Chastain said. "She is so deserving of this honor and really is one of the most special players that I've had the opportunity to coach.

"In combination with her special attacking ability, she brought a great level of discipline to our team this year, and I know she will be a tremendous leader going into her senior year.

"On top of all of that, she has an infectious laugh and is so fun to be around and have in our program."

Women's basketball

Saint Louis University junior point guard Jackie Kemph (Rolling Meadows H.S.) is one of 50 players named today to the 2016-17 Naismith Trophy watch list. The award is presented by the Atlanta Tipoff Club to the player of the year in women's college basketball.

Kemph is the only player from an Atlantic 10 Conference institution on the Naismith Trophy watch list. Earlier this year, she was one of 20 players named to the watch list for the Nancy Lieberman Award, presented to the nation's top NCAA Division I point guard.

Kemph leads the A-10 in assists per game (7.1) and assist-turnover ratio (2.78:1), ranking ninth and 39th, respectively, in NCAA Division I. She is second in the league and 34th nationally in free throws made (31), and third in the conference and 32nd in the nation in free throw attempts (41). Kemph leads the Billikens and ranks seventh in the A-10 with 15.6 points per game.

Men's swimming

Carthage sophomore Sam Gabriel (Prospect) won the 100 backstroke (55.55) as the Red Men scored 1,776.50 points to edge Albion College in the A3 Carthage Classic at the Koenitzer Aquatic Center. Gabriel was also part of the Red Men's 200 medley relay (1:38.82) which took second place.

Mustang 3-on-3 Shootout

The Rolling Meadows Athletic Booster Club is sponsoring its 22nd Annual Mustang 3-on-3 Shootout Basketball Tournament.

The tournament will be Sunday, Dec. 18 and is open to boys and girls from third grade through adult.

The games will be played from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. with younger players going earlier in the day. All games will be played at Rolling Meadows High School and will be officiated. Concessions will be available.

Early registration is through Dec. 10 and the cost is $100 per team. The final registration deadline is Dec. 16 and cost per team is $120. Teams may register online at rmhsboosters.com.

Proceeds from this event go toward the Post Prom Committee and the RMHS Athletic Boosters. Please direct questions to Dave Dillon (847-252-8969) or Rick Kowalski (847-421-1258).

• Please email Sports Notes items to jleusch@dailyherald.com.

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