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Harvard-Westlake Is Set With Kriste

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Jenni Kriste, one of the hottest collegiate prospects around, setter and centerpiece of the fiery Harvard-Westlake High girls’ volleyball team, is from ice-cold Anchorage, Alaska.

But hold the igloo jokes, please. She’s heard them all.

And, no, she never dressed like Nanook. But she has seen the Iditarod.

Inuit innuendoes aside, Kriste, who will lead the Wolverines against Crescenta Valley tonight in the first round of the Southern Section Division II playoffs, has been attracting plenty of collegiate attention.

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Late Tuesday night, Kriste orally committed to California, choosing the Golden Bears over UCLA, Duke and USC.

“It’s in a big city, it’s close enough to home, it’s a young team and I love the coaching staff,” Kriste said.

California’s coaches will love what the 6-foot Kriste has to offer.

She blocks effectively on defense and attacks efficiently on offense, which are not usually the functions of a setter.

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Kriste causes problems for defenses because she is left-handed and also has a knack for distributing the ball among Harvard-Westlake’s many capable hitters, keeping everybody in the flow of the match.

And keeping opponents off balance.

“She’s very smart with who she’s setting to, and she’s a threat as a hitter,” said Notre Dame High Coach Shaney Fink, a former player at Cal. “She’s going to do real well at the next level.”

Astoundingly, Kriste, a converted opposite hitter, became a setter only a little more than a year ago.

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“I saw the ball come off her hands [during a set] and went ‘Wow!’ ” Coach Jess Quiroz said. “She has a muffler--you don’t hear anything as the ball comes out her hands.”

In Kriste’s hands, Harvard-Westlake has flourished.

The Wolverines, 18-1 and seeded second in Division II, won the Mission League title and championships of prestigious tournaments at Fountain Valley and San Marcos.

Kriste realizes the Wolverines’ playoff potential, but she also knows that one small stumble means the end.

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“We’re a very logical team,” Kriste says. “We know what we need to do: Take it one step at a time and don’t say, ‘Oh, this is going to be easy.’ You prepare yourself.”

Kriste is prepared to keep progressing at setter.

Even though she gained valuable experience at last year’s Junior Olympics and a setting camp at Long Beach State, Kriste acknowledges she has plenty to learn.

Her father, George, recalled how Jenni picked up the sport after the family moved to Los Angeles.

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“Basically, she had to talk one of the other sixth-grade kids into showing her how to play,” he said.

Now, it is Jenni Kriste’s turn to conduct class on the volleyball court.


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