by Matt Antonic
Kennedy Wagner with 1st Alliance (Chicago) says her club takes a very positive approach whenever someone makes a mistake. There’s no yelling or screaming, no “come ons” or even a “shake it off.”
“Whenever we make a mistake, we say ‘you got it,’ because we really feel like that brings you up,” she said.
The Alliance had just made a handful of mistakes to allow Club Elevation right back into the second set Sunday in 16 Elite bracket action at the Triple Crown NIT. A 19-15 lead had suddenly been whittled down to one, leading to a timeout. The Alliance’s positive and disciplined approach paid off when they broke the huddle, as the team finished off the Elevation to win in straight sets (25-18, 25-22) at the Kansas City Convention Center.
In both sets, the Alliance dominated for stretches, but slip-ups allowed Elevation to continue to see daylight. The first set saw a five-point lead disappear in the blink of an eye. But as Wagner said, the club’s positive reinforcement allowed it to regroup with ease, closing out each set with dominance. It was 16-16 in the first set before a timeout. A 9-2 run followed to end it.
It was 22-21 in the second set; Alliance didn’t let Elevation score again. Wagner said the result was just a glimpse of the team’s hard work that has begun to pay incredible dividends. Due to Illinois COVID restrictions, the club was not able to be together or compete for lengthy amounts of time. When they did return to the gym, Wagner said the team’s work rate was higher than ever.
“We worked our butts off in practice,” she said. “We had three hour sessions, and we tried to be the team we are now. All those practices are showing off now.”
Coach Trish Samolinski agreed, adding that the team’s main focus has been efficiency. Specifically, efficiency at the end of sets. That strategy was on full display as the team came out of timeouts at the end of both sets and executed well.
“Especially the last five plays of the game, we’re really focusing on being pretty flawless,” she said. “I thought the girls executed really well when they got to playing.”
Among other displays shown by 1st Alliance were the variety of hustle plays that fired up both players and the band of travelling fans. The team saved points on several occasions by keeping seemingly lost balls in play, forcing the Elevation into mistakes.
“Without us making mistakes, it helps us achieve what we want to do,” Samolinski said. “We did things like move our servers around, and that moves the passes around and gets them out of system.”
“Gritty” was the word Samolinski used to describe her group and the effort they displayed. The team’s effort was even buoyed by players from teams in the club’s younger age group coming by the court to lend support.
“They’re a pretty group of kids. They know even if they’re down, they have the grit and intensity to fight back, and that’s going to win us games,” Samolinski added.