By Kyle Koso
Aside from fielding a profoundly talented squad at the Triple Crown Volleyball NIT, Terri Spann made sure her 14 Elite Arizona Storm team could flex another important quality – that of being prepared.
The Storm earned their way to the 14 Elite championship match and played with the comfort and ease normally found at a backyard party, taking down Wave by a score of 25-12, 25-19. It was one of three Elite age group championships for the Storm this year, which has always been a force at the TC NIT except for a slight drop-off in 2017.
This time around, Spann’s 14’s were unaffected by playing on the TV court (the match was broadcast by ESPN3), while Wave never got comfortable despite owning some impressive wins along the way to the showdown.
“I’ve always known we had the pieces; this is a great group of girls. They are experienced and knowledgeable, and I challenge them daily,” said Spann, whose team saw Wave close to within 22-19 in Game 2 before finishing the task on big kills from Jordan Middleton and Laylah Daniels. “We had one of the toughest routes through the tournament, but we embrace that. We are used to the championship court, because that’s how I train these girls mentally. We’re not competing for a 14 Open event in Arizona – we’re competing for a national, high-level title.”
One boost of confidence came when the Storm beat OTVA in Sunday’s pool play, as the result was reversed at USA Nationals last year as 13’s. The Storm also showed some serious mettle in a three-set pool-play win over Nebraska Premier on Sunday, a contest that had at least 100 onlookers and no shortage of cheering for either side.
That clearly made Monday much easier to manage.
“We were communicating in practice and working hard; we had a lot of motivation coming in because we knew our rivals (OTVA) would be here,” said Daniels, one of several punishing hitters on the roster. “We like to go out and have fun; that’s the best way to play. We have a lot of dominant players and an amazing libero (McKenna Douglas) who gets everything up. We’ve played together for about three years, so we are like a family.”
The Storm’s setter, Tatum Thomas, had her choice of hitters that were on target Monday; to make it tougher on opponents, Thomas is also very cerebral and aware of the best percentage play out there.
“I look at the block closely; you have to see what block is up, the height, and who is doing well as a hitter … all that,” said Thomas. “We knew we were the underdogs coming into this tournament, and we had to work hard and come in hungry. I think it’s really cool that we get to play at the same club with the same coaching so many great players have done.”