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Friends will become rivals on the college court

by: FILE PHOTOS / VERN UYETAKE, 
Alyssa O’Neil was recently named the 6A co-Player of the Year and will attend Oregon State University next year. The hitter will make the shift to defensive specialist. Kellie Kawasaki will attend the University of Oregon and the second-team all-state selection hopes to become the Ducks’ libero.

West Linn's Alyssa O'Neil and Kellie Kawasaki have been playing sports together since they were in elementary school.

Starting in fourth grade, the pair was on the same softball team and, in eighth grade, the duo teamed up to play on the same club volleyball team and began wreaking havoc all over the West Coast.

In high school, O'Neil and Kawasaki helped the Lions win a state title in 2007 and made it back to the championship match this fall together.

Now, the two will part ways for college but, unbeknownst to them at the time, they will be on a collision course with each other.

O'Neil and Kawasaki will each be playing Division I volleyball in the brutally competitive Pac-10 conference. Only O'Neil has opted to attend Oregon State University and Kawasaki will head to the University of Oregon.

'It was totally a coincidence. We're both really excited for each other,' O'Neil said.

Both players have their work cut out for them as they will be vying to make the team as freshmen.

O'Neil had eyed Oregon State for years, even before she ever thought seriously about playing volleyball collegiately.

'I've aspired to be a veterinarian since elementary school and (OSU) has a terrific program. For a while I didn't even know if I wanted to play in college but when I made my visit I just fell in love with everything,' O'Neil said.

It was an odd allegiance considering that the majority of her family is made up of Ducks fans.

It will be quite an adjustment for O'Neil. First, the level of play she will be facing will be near the best in the nation as virtually every Pac-10 program has an elite volleyball team.

'Nothing compares to the level of competition in the Pac-10,' O'Neil said.

Second, O'Neil will likely be changing positions. In high school, O'Neil was a dominant hitter due to her outstanding leaping ability.

But Pac-10 hitters usually check in at well over six-feet tall and, as O'Neil puts it, '(the Beavers) are stacked with hitters.'

So she will instead focus on her defense and be primarily a back line player. With the Lions, O'Neil was an underrated defender. She was known primarily for her devastating kills but also had a knack for coming up with terrific digs from the back. She was also one of West Linn's top servers.

O'Neil will continue to hone those skills over the next few months before travelling down to Corvallis for the team's first camp in late July.

She knows she has a difficult road in front of her but is excited that she will be relatively close to home.

'It's close enough to still be able to visit home but far enough away to still feel independent. I know I need to work really hard to get a playing spot,' O'Neil said.

Unlike O'Neil, Kawasaki never had a favorite college in mind but when she visited Eugene's campus, Oregon quickly became a top contender.

'I really liked the coaches. It's close to home and they've really done well in the past few years,' Kawasaki said.

And she knows that the potential of squaring off against O'Neil on the opposite side of the net will be exciting.

'It will definitely be fun. We'll be very competitive on the court but we'll give each other a hug afterward,' Kawasaki said.

Kawasaki has aspirations of making the Ducks' squad next fall but also has some tough competition.

Oregon's libero recently graduated leaving that position open. And Kawasaki, who was arguably the top libero in the state for the past two years, hopes to win the job.

'I'll have to compete for the job. I'll play club ball and stay in shape with strength work outs,' Kawasaki said.

She was an anchor for the Lions both with her solid play and with her ability to calm the team down at key moments.

Kawasaki will take summer classes in Eugene starting in June and then will begin training prior to the start of the season.

She is also looking forward to the high-level of play in the Pac-10.

'It will be amazing to play against such talented girls,' Kawasaki said.