by Kyle Koso
KANSAS CITY, MO -- Having a feeling of relative comfort certainly agreed with the 1st Alliance 16 Silver Elite squad on Saturday, building a lead in its final match of the day after dropping two three-set matches earlier at the Triple Crown NIT.
However, there's never anything easy about the power pools at the TC NIT, and sure enough, 1st Alliance (IL) soon saw OT Roberto (FL) fire up and make it interesting in Game 1. Properly reawakened, 1st Alliance fought off the lulls and went on to post a 25-23, 25-18 victory and get on the right side of the scoreboard after losses to Premier Nebraska and Skyline Royal.
"You saw us start to lay back, like when it got to 16-10, so we maybe took our foot off the gas. We had to come together and realize, no team is just going to give up and let you win," said Katie Hurta, who handled chores at setter with skill and added two critical kills late in Game 1. "You just have to push it to the end. We all believe in each other; whoever says get me the ball, we know they can put it down. Having that trust has made us super balanced."
"When you keep your energy up and keep encouraging your team, you'll do great. That energy being up and playing well are directly proportional," said outside hitter Chelsea Thorpe, who had a set of back-to-back kills and an ace as 1st Alliance jumped ahead early. "You play well, and that energy will go up. It feels great that you can rely on the team; it's even better knowing a teammate got the kill rather than you. You play as a team."
After falling behind 19-13 in Game 1, OT Roberto stopped spraying shots out of play. A running kill shot from Amaya Thomas drew OT within 22-20, and back-to-back smoldering kills by Mya Wood made it just 23-22 for 1st Alliance. Hurta got those last two kills to secure it.
Game 2 started in the same vein, but OT got it tied again at 9-all. Between some service errors and shots that missed their mark, OT fell behind again as a Hurta kill made it 19-11. A winner from Jordan Walker had 1st Alliance up 22-14, enough of a margin that a few late mistakes didn't sway the outcome.
"The team took a step back and let down early. You could see the intensity drop," said 1st Alliance coach Beth Baetzel. "This is only the second tournament this team has played together; we have four new kids, new setter and new middle. We're just trying to get the pieces together; we have a really high ceiling.
"We may take some lumps at the beginning of the season, but with the athleticism, this is a really good group. We'll get better, and we're looking to be the best in April, May, June."