Three days of intensely competitive volleyball at the Triple Crown NIT delivered a number of champions at various age groups, and we congratulate those teams that thrived and survived in Kansas City over President’s Day Weekend.
But only one program headed home with the 2020 Top Club Award – A5 Volleyball Club!
To be eligible for the award, a club must have entered a team in at least three age divisions (12s through 18s), and points were tabulated from the top three finishes of each club. Here is the breakdown for the Top 10:
1. A5 Volleyball (290 points) – Based out of north Atlanta, A5 was a factor in multiple age groups, with the 17-Jing team winning at 17 Elite, and both 18-Scott and 14-Helen taking second place in their elite divisions.
2. Legacy (200) – Located in northwest Detroit, Legacy came away with Elite division titles at 18’s and 15’s and moved up from a tie for sixth in last year’s Club standings.
3. Texas Advantage (180) – TAV (suburban Dallas) had won two of the previous three Club awards; in 2020, the 18’s and 17’s and 14’s reached the quarterfinals.
4. Wave (140) – Based in Del Mar, CA., Wave reached the quarterfinals at 16 Elite and 14 Elite.
T5. TStreet (Irvine, CA), Skyline (Dallas), MadFrog (Dallas), all with 120 points. MadFrog excelled at the younger age groups, winning the 12 Elite and 13 Elite titles while getting to the 16 Elite semifinals. Skyline made the 16 Elite semifinals and 17 Elite quarterfinals; TStreet reached the 17 Elite quarterfinals and the 15 Elite semifinals.
T8. Club Ignit (IA), OT (FL), Dynasty (KS), all with 100 points. Club Ignit (Des Moines) took the title at 16 Elite; OT (Orlando/Tampa) got to the quarterfinals at 16 Elite and 15 Elite; Dynasty (Kansas City) ended up in the 14 Elite quarterfinals, the 13 Elite semifinals and the 12 Elite championship match.
By Kyle Koso
KANSAS CITY, MO -- The Dynasty Volleyball club made its debut at the Triple Crown NIT in 2019, when the event moved from Salt Lake City to Kansas City -- it made for a pleasant trip for Dynasty, based in KC's suburbs.
As it turned out, the 13 Elite Dynasty team took home the title in 2019, then decided to mix the roster up a bit with five new players as it went for the repeat in 2020 at 14 Elite. It appears the NIT and Dynasty are proving to be a natural fit, as Dynasty fulfilled its own high expectations and won again, beating A5 Mizuno-Helen in three sets, 25-19, 24-26, 15-9.
A kill from Carlie Cisneros actually gave Dynasty a lead in Game 2, 18-16, and winners from Nela Misipeka put the team on the doorstep of a sweep at 23-22 before A5 fought back to tie it. Dealing with that disappointment and having to extend the effort was critical for Dynasty.
"We thought about how we got where we were today, and we weren't going to let it go away because of a lousy set we had," said Cisneros, who answered the call repeatedly when a shot was needed. "We were going to keep fighting and not let anything change the fact we are champions. I'm one of the new players; this was a huge change. I was playing in the USA division, and now I'm on one of the best teams in the nation.
"Our defense was on point, and we never let anything drop. Our middles were always closing the block, doing what they're supposed to. It's amazing, and it's really great to know they trusted me and felt confident enough to give me the final ball. I took care of it, and that felt really great."
Misipeka is one of those surprise players who comes by rarely, standing just 5-foot-6 but incredibly springy and always a factor on the outside. She said at about age 12, it became obvious she had the vertical jump that makes a difference in the sport.
"Our pins hitters are unstoppable, and for me to have that pressure on me, I just work harder and try to get that kill for my team," she said. "After Game 2, we talked about keeping the intensity, and that communication was key. Winning this again was something I really wanted, and for us to work hard and get this is really great."
Game 3 was tied at 6-all; two kills from Misipeka made it 9-6, and two more winners from Ava Spachek pushed it to 11-7. Two clever tips from Misipeka got it near the finish line, and a block from Abigail Mullen sealed the verdict.
"We wanted to get a little bit longer; we're still pretty small compared to nationally, but we have so much versatility on our pins. We have four of the best in the country," said Dynasty coach Levi Gibson. "We want to keep people on their toes and move the ball around. We play with a chip on our shoulder, and in these environments we are comfortable.
"This is a coming of age tournament for some of our kids. Sometimes we stepped away from our game plan in the second set; we went over it again, and when we execute we can play at a real high level. That was a barnburner and it could have gone either way; the margin of victory is so small, and we were happy to comer out on top. We'll see those guys a lot this year."
by Matthew Antonic
OLATHE, KS -- To say MadFrog’s victory Monday over the KC Dynasty to clinch the championship in the 12 Elite division at the Triple Crown NIT was hard-fought would be an understatement.
“Ferocious” would probably be a more appropriate term to describe the team’s effort to secure the trophy and gold medals.
The energy level from the black and green side was incredible, from the players, coaches and a spirited section of families that had traveled all the way to the Kansas City area from Texas.
“It feels good,” Simone Heard said after her team dispatched Dynasty VBC (KS) in three exciting sets (16-25, 25-23, 15-10). “I’m so excited that we drove all the way over here just to win, and we did exactly what you wanted.”
MadFrog finished with an incredibly strong effort but struggled mightily out of the gate, losing a relatively uncompetitive first set by nine points. Head coach Stephanie Lewellen chalked that up to a tendency for the team to start slowly in the first set and then finish strong.
However, the coaches never wavered after the rough start, and the players certainly didn’t either. In fact, the MadFrog sideline was one of the most notably energetic sidelines in the entire MAVS volleyball facility Monday afternoon.
During the competitive second and third sets, Lewellen said she was proud of her team for keeping their composure, especially with all the noise around them.
“The emotions that we’re feeding them from the sideline, that’s how they’re going to respond,” she said. “We always try to keep it high-energy, but level-headed and try to stay cool, calm and collected.”
MadFrog and Dynasty were tied at 16-16 in the second set before taking control, holding off a rally at the very end to force a third and final set.
“We just went out thinking ‘this is our game,’” Gabi Rodriguez said. “We wanted to leave it all out there because it was our last game.”
"We just went out and believed in ourselves and trusted each other for every ball,” Heard added.
In the final set, the teams traded points until six, when MadFrog went on a crucial 4-0 run to take control, leading 10-6. Once MadFrog had control, the Dynasty were buried in too large a hole to fight back.
The Triple Crown NIT Tournament was a new setting for the MadFrog 12u group. The club has been well represented by older teams in the past, and this was the first go of it for Lewellen’s group. It’s safe to say that the experience, capped off by a photo op with the first-place trophy, was well worth it.
“We couldn’t ask for anything better,” Lewellen said.
When Rodriguez spoke, her voice was hoarse from screaming during the match. Communication, Lewellen and Heard emphasized, was key to the team’s victory, and MadFrog players were especially vocal on the court and the sideline for every point.
Rodriguez’ answer about the team’s work ethic wasn’t lengthy, but it didn’t have to be. The final result helped speak for her -- “The hours we put in and all the work, it definitely paid off.”
By Kyle Koso
KANSAS CITY, MO -- Volleyball is packed with mysterious changes in momentum, with weird and random bounces and shots that can turn a match on its head.
So when you've got something reliable and trusted, like the lineup of the Legacy Black 18 Elite team, you've got some insurance against the unexpected.
After last year's Legacy 18's (MI) took first place at the 2019 Triple Crown NIT, the next group moved up and measured up in every way, topping A5 Mizuno-Scott (GA) in straight sets Monday to earn the 18 Elite championship, 25-20, 28-26 at the Kansas City Convention Center. With a lineup that is an ideal blend of length, strength and speed, Legacy fought off two late set points in Game 2 and closed the door with a block from South Carolina commit Ellie Ruprich.
"What was amazing about today for us, from the first match and even previously, we played so cohesively. A lot of us have been together for five or six years now, so we know each other's tendencies," said setter Alexa Rousseau, who is headed to play at Northwestern. "We know what works, what to say to each other. Every part of our game was on, and as one. Our work as a team and our mental toughness helped us win."
Rousseau made a wise choice at 26-all in the third game, after she tried to dump the ball quickly over the net only to see A5 jump in and dig the ball. A few seconds later, Rousseau decided to soft-serve another shot, this time to an open spot in the back right of the court, making it 27-26 and setting the stage for Ruprich's last swing.
"We've been trying to find those places that work for me, because I know when we get into trouble I have to use myself as an option," Rousseau said. "Knowing it was there, having the confidence to go and redeem myself, I was playing and not thinking. It worked out."
A5 Mizuno had an early lead in Game 1, but a tip from Kendall Murray (Michigan) and an ace from Ruprich made it 21-16 for Legacy. Megan Dombrowski (West Virginia) punched a winner to make it 24-20, and a block from Lauren King (VCU) finished the game.
"Our team has a variety, we can swing anywhere on the court, and that's one of strengths here at the beginning of the year," said Murray, who was driving down shots all day. "We can hit from anywhere, use our speed, and we try to use that in every match. We tell each other all the time to focus on our side, do what we know how to do. It's a honor (to be relied upon), but I can't do anything without people around me. It's fun to play with my best friends, you really can't ask for anything more."
Legacy coach Bryan Lindstrom recalled how often this group played last year's 18 Black, and how frustrating it was to never beat them. The 2020 version certainly looks ready for its own run of successes.
"We got fifth at JO's and fifth here last year as 17's, and we battled (the 18's) every single day in practice and never won. Our mantra was, how do we follow that group up," Lindstrom said. "We had teams lined up that we were able to get revenge on, and after that our confidence was through the roof. Our libero, Kennedy (Dolmage, an Oakland commit) played out of her mind, and our setter is super tough to defend, whether she's hitting or dumping the ball.
"If that was us on Day 1, we would have lost that match. Our momentum picked up ... we had one of our middle go down Sunday, had a kid fill in, so we had that confidence and belief that we're not done until it is over."
by Kyle Koso
KANSAS CITY, MO -- In 2019, a group of volleyball players under the moniker of Club Iowa Select shocked mostly everyone attending the Triple Crown NIT, storming past national powerhouses to a second-pace finish in the 15 Elite division.
Minor changes to the roster, and a change of name to Club Ignit Select, didn't mask anything about the team's ability to excel against the best teams in the nation, as the 2020 TC NIT saw Club Ignit take charge in the 16 Elite bracket Monday, winning a three-set semifinal before coming back to top the Arizona Storm for the championship, 19-25, 25-21, 15-7 at the Kansas City Convention Center.
CIS didn't quite display all of its attributes in Game 1, while Arizona took command thanks to high-flying kills from Jordan Middleton and a mix of smart plays from Anita Babic, Laylah Daniel and others. Game 2 was a separate tale, with Hayden Kubik being asked to swing away and delivering multiple points as Ava Reynolds and setter Lauren Carter followed through with timely contributions.
And after back-to-back aces from Dasha Svitashev made it 19-17, CIS went on to split sets -- no one could forsee Game 3's path, where CIS used a 9-0 run to smooth its journey to the title.
"Some of (the Storm's) contact points are maybe a little different than other players we've seen, their offense is a little different ... it was important for our middles to identify (the hitters) and for us to defend," said CIS coach Tina Carter. "That's what we've been doing this whole weekend. Our ball control is what led us to this point."
And when able to stay in system, Lauren Carter can get the ball to CIS' assortment of weapons. Kubik scored four straight points to start Game 2; she had a critical winner to make it 23-21, and a couple of kills and two aces in Game 3 also proved huge, as CIS rode faith in itself while the Storm looked a bit tight in the latter stretches.
"I take it as I'm grateful for my teammates trusting me. Having them play with me is an awesome opportunity," Kubik said. "This year, we had a purpose, and we came here for a reason. The first set, we kind of sat back, so we said, 'we gotta go.' I don't really know how Game 3 happened, I just focused really hard on my serves and took a deep breath, kept going."
"I think that's what good players do," coach Carter said about Kubik's ability to dictate the moment. "She's got that high IQ, understands how to play big, play smart, use the block to her advantage, be aware she'll be targeted a lot, and I thought she responded really well."
Game 2 saw CIS in danger of losing in straight sets, to be sure. Arizona took a 17-16 lead on a kill from Kylie Moran, and Middleton got the Storm within 22-21 on a nice shot before CIS won the game on a Reynolds kill.
"This tournament just may be a little magical for us. Over three days, playing elite competition, it raises the confidence of the girls when we are having success," coach Carter said. "There's this genuine trust; I've had a lot of them since they were 12's, so they're used to each other, trusting that the person next to you is doing what they are supposed to.
"When you're playing teams that big and physical, you can't just run things straight ahead. Being able to stretch them a bit was a key."
Game 3 actually saw CIS down 3-1, but a block from Sam Schroeder changed the mood; a net-cord ace from Kubik made it 12-4, ending the run.
"This is my first year on the team, and it's really helped me being with all these players," Reynolds said. "They've made me better, I've made them better, and we really have come together as a team. We believed in our hearts (even after) Game 1 that we could win it. We needed to use every player to get it done. You can't be intimidated; you have to know your skills and trust your training, be confident and attack the ball at all times."