CHURCHILL — Winning a state championship is never easy. Winning two state championships in the same season, well that’s darn near impossible.
But that’s exactly what Manhattan Christian juniors Ava Bellach and Jadyn VanDyken accomplished this fall. The duo were varsity members of the cross country and volleyball teams, which each won state Class C crowns.
Less than a week after claiming gold in volleyball, and shortly after enjoying a fire truck ride around town on Wednesday, VanDyken noted it’s still kind of surreal.
“It’s a really cool experience,” she said. “It hasn’t really set in yet.”
Bellach earned a third place finish at the state cross country meet in 2020 in leading the Eagles to their first team title since 1991. Christian edged Seeley-Swan by one point to unexpectedly win the championship.
But sisters Katelyn and Kiersten Van Kirk opted not to return to this fall to focus on volleyball. The team received a big boost, however, when VanDyken — a standout sprinter on the track team — decided to participate.
“I was really excited to go into cross country. I had a confident mind,” said Bellach. “And then when I knew Jadyn was going out I was really excited because she’s a really good runner.”
VanDyken set a new school record for a 5K during the regular season and then placed fourth at state as a first time runner. Led by her effort, the Eagles cruised to a second consecutive state title.
“After we won state for cross country I was like, ‘Well that would be really cool if we won volleyball too,’” VanDyken said. “So after winning state for cross country it kind of pushed me more to want to win volleyball because it was like we have the potential to win too.”
Christian won state title in volleyball in 2019, but finished as the runner up a year ago. With several key departures from the program, Bellach admitted she wasn’t sure if the team could return the championship match.
“I didn’t even really think about state. I was just looking to have a really fun time,” she said. “I knew that we had the potential with the Van Kirk’s both being really talented volleyball players, so I knew we had the potential. I think we just had to get the work done and do it.”
Bellach, who played all the way around as a middle/outside hitter, finished third on the team in kills en route to earning All-State honors. VanDyken split setting duties with Kiersten Van Kirk and led the team in assists.
Christian posted a 26-3 record and won three matches on the final day of the state tournament to win title.
As one would expect, Bellach and VanDyken were constantly on the go. Between school, practices and game days, there was little down time.
The hardest part, they agreed, was finding the motivation to go run following volleyball practice. And several times they had to rush from a cross country meet to join the volleyball team for a tournament or match that night.
So why put yourself through that kind of pressure?
“People ask all the time why we do both sports and I just don’t really know what to say,” said Bellach. “It’s kind of like —”
“I want to,” VanDyken interjected.
The time spent with teammates, well that made it all worth it.
“The best part was just all of the new relationships from two different sports and having different teams,” VanDyken said. “The different aspect of each sport too, just experiencing that.”
The duo will now shift their focus to basketball this winter before competing in track in the spring. Christian placed fourth at state in basketball a year ago, and despite some key losses Bellach is excited about the upcoming season.
“I think we have a pretty good group of girls going out,” she said. “We might not have our numbers up as much, but it should be fun and we’ll grow more as a team. I think it’ll be a good season for us hopefully.”