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Kalama's Amanda Killinen has emerged as the area's top setter, following in the footsteps of her coach Jeni O'Neil, who had her own share of success as a setter in high school. The Chinooks head to the Yakima Valley SunDome on Thursday to compete in the 2B State Volleyball Championships.  

Amanda Killinen was distributing the ball against Mossyrock during the evening of Nov. 12, 2016, a freshman making up one-sixth of a roster that won a state title late that night at the Yakima Valley SunDome. She was barely over 5-feet tall and was dwarfed by three Kalama teammates 6-feet or taller.

She’s not much taller these days, but she’s grown by leaps and bounds thanks to her work ethic and coach Jeni O’Neil, of whom she’s developed a bond, sometimes approaching something like twins.

The junior and coach, along with the rest of the Chinooks, will spend the next two days in Yakima fighting for another state title, the school’s second volleyball crown.

“Neither Jeni or I thought our team would make it this far,” Killinen said. “But we continued to push and elevate our play and it’s paid off.”

In many respects, the team isn’t too different than the championship roster, which included 6-foot-3 hitter Kapio Wetmore — now a senior — along with Taylor Tabor and Payton Collins, who are both juniors.

Perhaps the most similar aspect is that Killinen will still be distributing, though likely a bit better than she did two years ago.

“It’s so crazy to think that she was our setter at 5-foot-1 on a state championship team, but how much better she is now than she was just blows my mind,” O’Neil said. “She’s the heartbeat to our team.”

She was good then, really good by traditional freshman standards, and always had something different about her.

“The special thing about Amanda is that setters can have good hands and setters can deliver the ball. You can teach somebody to be a setter,” O’Neil said. “But to really be successful and dynamic you have to have a court sense, much like a quarterback on a football team, and she has that. She sees what’s going on around her. She sees the blockers on the other side; she sees the defense. She’s a multi-tasker at heart, which is a necessity when you’re running an offense. And Amanda just has that.”

That trait carries off the court, as well, and it’s an element O’Neil had when she played in high school and college. That’s likely one key reason why the two might as well be joined together at the hip.

“I think the strongest part of our relationship is that we can look at each other and know exactly what the other person is thinking,” Killinen said. “Great minds think alike, and I feel as if I’m her mini-me in the sense of personality, and I think it helps when she’s coaching me.”

That’s not the only shared trait, though.

“Amanda reminds me of myself because she’s competitive and has that ‘never give up’ attitude,” O’Neil said. “We get along really well.”

Seeing the court might be a little easier with the weapons Kalama has rostered over the past few seasons, but the Chinooks are seeing much different lineups over the next two days, with 6-foot blockers abound. It’s an area where Killinen’s prowess, and O’Neil’s experience play a huge factor.

“Amanda has the ability to see who their blockers are tracking, and you might think she’s setting up outside but all of sudden she delivers a beautiful ball back and that hitter doesn’t have any blockers because that has already been taken away,” O’Neil said. “You have to have it — it’s the secret weapon almost to deliver the ball.”

After Kalama graduated the “four-headed monster” of Kaelyn Shipley, Parker Esary, Stephanie Paredes and McKenna LaRoy, Killinen had a unique role.

She challenged herself, but it wasn’t an easy road, especially for a sophomore.

“People were looking to me for help,” Killinen said. “Something that helped me tremendously was my sister, Danica Killinen, who was a senior last year and still to this day she is the best teammate I’ve ever had. Not saying that because she’s my sister, but she was a person I looked up to on and off the court and I tried my best to mimic her actions in order to help me be a better leader.”

Now that sister on the sidelines is O’Neil — not that the bond wasn’t already present.

“The most valuable thing I’ve learned from Jeni is that working hard truly pays off,” Killinen said. “Blood, sweat and tears have gone into this season and now we are league and district champs.”

And maybe a state crown by Friday afternoon.

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Sports Reporter

Jason is a journeyman sports reporter who has covered the Golden State Warriors, Oakland A's, along with a heavy emphasis on the Oakland Raiders. He comes to Cowlitz County from Oakland, Calif. and is a loving father.

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