Biltmore Volleyball Academy (BVA) will host the 20th Annual Jr. Hi Neighbor Volleyball Tournament throughout the Asheville area this weekend, Saturday April 16th & Sunday April 17th. The Tournament is celebrating its 20th Anniversary bringing an estimated 3,500 players, coaches, and their families from throughout the southeast for the largest volleyball competition in the area for girls ranging in age from 13-18 years old. The games are open to the general public at no cost and are an excellent opportunity to support the local players in their own backyard.
Between homework, practice, and travel, players struggle to balance their responsibilities. For some, the love of volleyball is not just a passion, but also an escape from life’s challenges. And sometimes, those challenges are greater than we can possibly imagine. A rising athlete competing on the 14 National Team this year, Makena Phillips is excited about her second season with BVA. Currently enrolled at Enka Middle, she looks forward to following in her mother Kelly’s footsteps to play for Enka High School’s varsity team. However this season has been an exceptional challenge for Makena, not because of her technique, but because of an unexpected illness in her family. Her six year old cousin Mya was diagnosed with Burkitt’s Lymphoma, a very rare and fast growing cancer of the lymphatic system.
The Phillips family is very close. They live next door to one another, attend the same church, and the cousins are naturally the best of playmates. “Makena is very caring and loving. She has been the most affected…she loves Mya to pieces,” said her mother Kelly.
The news of Mya’s diagnosis this past year came just after Mya started the first grade. The only silver lining was that the disease responds well to treatment. Unfortunately, Mya’s treatment at Mission Hospital was not successful. The devastating news arrived while Makena was at practice, where according to Kelly, “…she’s able to forget about [cancer] once she’s on the court.” Bouncing off the court with an adrenaline high, Kelly waited to tell her daughter the news until they were in the car.
Mya is now at Duke Hospital for treatment, starting with stronger chemotherapy. She’s lost her hair, and her bright smile needs reminders of life outside of hospitals, so, the girls FaceTime often. They are innocent and silly, and will talk about things that bring a smile, like puppies. Makena recently introduced Mya to her new puppy, a gift from a BVA teammate.
Makena will compete with her team this weekend at tournament. She loves the sport and seeks to excel, not just for her team, but for Mya. She has a long road ahead with radiation, auto stem cell and bone marrow transplants. But this weekend, Mya is looking forward to volleyball stories and a possible win for the 14 National Team.
The Jr Hi Neighbor Volleyball Tournament will bring 132 teams to the Asheville area to compete. In 1997, the City of Asheville’s Parks & Recreation Department created the Jr. Hi Neighbor Tournament as a spin off from their Adult Hi Neighbor Tournament. It was also the first 2-day volleyball tournament in the Carolinas. The partnership continued for 19 years until the City of Asheville decided that the Biltmore Volleyball Academy should produce the event independently. For the 20th event this year, matches will be held at various facilities throughout the region including Mars Hill College, UNC Asheville, Asheville High School & Middle School, North Buncombe, AC Reynolds, Asheville School, and Hendersonville High Schools.
The Jr. Hi Neighbor Tournament also provides scholarships for local athletes through the Jordan Hodges Scholarship Fund, for players who demonstrate a passion and commitment to the sport, and are in need financial assistance. The Fund is in memoriam of the promising young volleyball player Jordan Hodges, who was killed in an automobile accident in 2009 at the age of 14. To honor her and help others follow their dream to play volleyball, 22 scholarships have been awarded since its inception.
Biltmore Volleyball Academy (BVA) is a nonprofit organization founded in 1995 to promote and enhance volleyball in Western North Carolina by providing a safe and enjoyable atmosphere for all ages and levels to develop. BVA is the premier club in WNC offering the highest level of coaching, including UNCA, Mars Hill College and area high school coaches. If you would like to make a gift to Mya’s family for medical expenses, please e-mail Executive Director Rhesa Edwards at firstname.lastname@example.org . For more information about the 2016 Jr. Hi Neighbor Tournament schedule, visit BVA’s website or Facebook Page.