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After successful volleyball career at Cleveland High and Southern Oregon, Taylor Ristvedt will spend summer fighting forest fires

COURTESY PHOTO: AL CASE/SOUTHERN OREGON ATHLETICS - Taylor Ristvedt, a Cleveland High graduate, had plenty to smile about during her standout volleyball career at Southern Oregon

Taylor Ristvedt was on fire for much of her final college volleyball season.

Now she's preparing to fight fire.

The Portland native was dominant at the net for the Southern Oregon Raiders, twice leading them to the Cascade Collegiate Conference title and the NAIA national tournament. She became just the third Southern Oregon player to be named a first-team NAIA volleyball all-American.

She earned one final recognition last month when she won the Oregon Sports Awards Ad Rutschman Small College Athlete of the Year Award.

While crediting coaches and teammates for the honor, Ristvedt said being recognized as the top small college female athlete in Oregon was pretty cool and "a real good way to end my volleyball career."

Six months removed from her final volleyball match, Ristvedt is focused on putting out fires.

The Cleveland High graduate will work this summer fighting wildfires. This month, she started a job with Ashland-based Grayback Forestry, a private fire suppression company.

"I'm hoping that I like this," she said.

She considered trying to continue playing volleyball as a professional overseas but decided it was time to turn the page, even when a college coach in England reached out to her recently. But six months removed from competitive volleyball and with her degree in environmental sciences, Ristvedt is excited about the next phase.

"Physically and mentally, I've already started to move on from volleyball," Ristvedt said. "I've got a cooler opportunity now."

Taylor RistvedtShe noted that fighting forest fires will allow her to be outdoors and to be part of a team, something she misses after being involved with sports for most of her life. She is not certain what career path she might take. She said working in the parks service, or in a job focused on natural resources and sustainability might be interesting.

"I know I want to be outside," she said.

At Southern Oregon, Ristvedt was an impactful outside hitter who developed into a dominant attacker.

A 6-2, left-handed right-side hitter, Ristvedt had a big senior season. The Cascade Collegiate Conference player of the year for the second consecutive season, she averaged 3.7 kills per set with an attacking average of .348.

She had 10 or more kills in 28 of 35 matches as a senior and capped her career with 1,375 kills.

But it was her junior season that stands out because that's when the Raiders broke through to win the CCC title and reach the national quarterfinals.

"Junior season as a whole was really amazing," Ristvedt said, noting that the roster was in its second full season together. "We all worked really hard together."

As important as Ristvedt was to the Raiders success on the court, coach Josh Rohlfing said her impact off the court will be missed.

"She is a great person and has an insatiable work ethic. When one of your top athletes is also one of your top workers in every facet of the program, you have the opportunity to be successful," Rohlfing said. "We will miss her leadership and example immensely."

Growing up, soccer was Ristvedt's first sport. It wasn't until seventh grade that she gave volleyball a try, playing on a middle school team coached by her mother. That team played in a parks and recreation youth league and "was a learning experience for everyone."

She didn't join a club volleyball program until after her freshman year at Cleveland. Ristvedt also was a basketball player from the fourth grade through her junior year at Cleveland, and might have played basketball in college had she not chosen the volleyball opportunity.

While she wonders how basketball might have turned out, she has no regrets.

"I loved my time at Southern Oregon. I wouldn't trade it for anything," Ristvedt said. "I wouldn't have accomplished any of the things I did without the support of great teammates and coaches. They deserve credit for the awards."

In addition to leading the Raiders to two conference titles and as far as the NAIA national quarterfinals, she got to spend more time with younger twin sisters, Kylie and Ella. The sisters were teammates at Cleveland when Taylor was a senior and Kylie and Ella were freshmen. They figured that would be the one time the trio were teammates, but they reunited on the court this season for the Raiders.

"That was a real cool way for my career to wrap up," Ristvedt said.

Her college coach thinks the Rutschman Award was a cool and deserving way to cap Ristvedt's career.

"I know there are so many talented small college student-athletes in the state that were qualified to be on the list to receive the Ad Rutschman Award, so it was exciting to see her receive it," Rohlfing said.

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Twitter: @pauldanzer


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