by Matt Antonic
The Arizona Storm made it clear on Monday they were capable of putting mistakes behind them. The majority of their first set against Club MadFrog in the 14 Elite championship match of the Triple Crown NIT was certainly a stretch they would like to forget.
The script was flipped in the second set. The Storm jumped out to an almost unbelievable 15-2 lead enroute to winning 25-12. The deciding set would test Arizona’s athleticism and MadFrog’s toughness at the net.
A bonafide thriller ensued. MadFrog nearly erased a 6-1 lead, pulling within one on an emphatic block at the net by middle blocker Olivia Wayne. The scoreboard read 14-13 in favor of Arizona when a Storm-hit ball appeared to be heading out. A whistle came from the referee tower, signaling a tipped ball by the ever so closest of margins. Game over.
Good news for a team that has endured, by coach Cari Bauer’s own analysis, a very difficult past year. Only last week were the Storm able to compete in a qualifier. The rise to the top of the division at the NIT and final championship victory (20-25, 25-12, 15-12) were nothing short of remarkable.
“It’s been a great three days for us,” she said. “This is always a great tournament with lots of tough competition.”
The stellar performance in the second and third sets was in direct contrast to a tough first set that saw the Storm struggle to gain their footing. MadFrog’s aggressive approach was causing all sorts of problems.
“We made some unforced errors,” Bauer said. “I feel like the kids were a little bit nervous. We needed to get more disciplined.”
The Storm toughened up on the block, which Bauer credited as a huge help to defenders. The team’s athleticism was then put on full display. Arizona recorded countless impressive plays, including several agile digs initiated by impressive dives.
The postgame buzz near the presentation stage from the Storm contingent was palpable, and for good reason. The club has been forced away from the competitive arena for months on end, and now finds itself crowned champions of the NIT.
Storm outside hitter Teraya Sigler said the team knows how painful coming so close only to fall can be. The motivation to finish the job in full was apparent in the player’s intensity.
“We know what second place is like,” she said. “We know what it’s like to have that heartbreak, and that was kind of the drive. We wanted it and we went after it.”
Some of the most impressive athletic plays of the match came from libero Izzy Mahaffey, who spent all game saving points for the Storm with vital defense. Mahaffey said her work ethic was just one piece that helped the whole team function well, and that good plays fed confidence.
“The energy was palpable,” she said. “We really felt the momentum shift in the second set.”
The club’s unity was obvious, and Mahaffey demonstrated as such when she echoed Sigler’s thoughts on what pushed the Storm over the top to victory.
“It sucks getting second,” she said. “We were really pushing ourselves and it was an amazing experience.”