While McKenzie "Kizzy" Willey watches native Utahn Logan Tom live her Olympic dream in London, the Lone Peak senior took a step closer to making her own Olympic dream come true last week in Iowa.
The 18-year-old was named to the USA High Performance team that will represent the United States in the NORCECA Championships held in Nicaragua on Aug. 19-27. The program is part of how USA volleyball finds future Olympians.
"I'm so excited," she said after arriving home Sunday afternoon. Willey, an outside hitter, finds inspiration in watching Tom, a former Highland High standout who also plays outside hitter, compete in London.
"It's so fun to see all of those girls competing," she said. "As a little girl, you look up to those girls, and it's eye-opening now to know I need to fill those shoes. I need to be the person those little girls are looking up to. It's cool to know that (Logan) went through the exact same program, she had the same coaches that I've now had the opportunity to work with. It gives me a little bit of hope."
The process of making the team is quite an accomplishment itself. She joined with 3,500 volleyball players who traveled to Reno to tryout for a spot in USA volleyball's pipeline program. Only 24 athletes are selected for the USA's Junior National team and Willey was one of them.
She flew to Des Moines, Iowa, July 15 to begin training and tryouts in hopes of making the high performance team that will represent the U.S. Nearly two weeks ago, she suffered a setback when she experienced a shooting pain in her hand after she attempted to dig a ball during practice.
"I thought I just jammed my pinkie," Willey said. "The pain zapped me pretty good."
It turned out she'd fractured her pinkie above the knuckle and torn ligaments in her finger. Doctors gave her a cast and told her to sit out two to six weeks.
While she'd already impressed coaches, she was worried that an opportunity was slipping away from her, so she called her doctor and asked if there were any way possible she could play.
He was reluctant and warned her that she could further tear ligaments, worsen the fracture and possibly injure it so severely she would require surgery to repair the finger.
"I wanted to see the bigger picture, and I didn't want to ruin my hitting hand," said Willey, who has committed to play for Arizona State University. "I taped it up real good, and it does swell up pretty bad when I play. I ice it after every match, and it does hurt every time I touch it. You don't think the pinkie is a big deal, but it does send a shot of pain up my arm. But it was worth it to get back in the game."
She said she's "definitely not 100 percent" but she'll have three weeks off before traveling to Nicaragua for her next tournament.
"I was lucky enough to be able to push through and compete a little," she said.
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