As is custom, the A5 Mizuno volleyball team coached by Gabe Aramian is ranked in the upper reaches of every national poll, and that makes this particular 16’s group an attractive target for dozens of others hoping to make their own mark.
Yes, a day with A5 left in the rear-view mirror would have been great for some, but Aramian’s squad would have none of it Monday at the Triple Crown Volleyball NIT at the Salt Palace Convention Center. Taking on Sunshine VBC in the final, A5 started hot and fought off its only lull in a 25-16, 26-24 victory.
In the second game, A5 had a 17-10 lead, but Sunshine would fight back on kills from Devon Newberry (committed to UCLA beach volleyball) and Chloe Mueller. Trailing 19-18, A5 rode a kill and a block from Meg Froemming and two kills from Reilly MacNeill (Ohio State) to settle in for the stretch run.
With a sturdy defense at the net, A5 forced a cluster of shots to go long, and that’s what determined the final result.
“We had the target on us early this season and lost to a good Elevation team; this (event) is tough from the very first match all the way to the end,” Aramian said. “First day, everyone was a little shaky, including us. Second day was better, and today, I think we played our best. When (Sunshine rallied), you’ve got to stay calm and be aggressive. It’s very typical of Open level ball, because the talent is so high on both sides of the net.”
Also playing extremely well for A5 was Gabby Gonzales (Ohio State), who steadied the up-and-down nature of Game 2 with her accurate shots.
“We talked the night before about how this is our tournament to win. We hadn’t been playing our best, and we wanted to go for it,” she said. “It’s intense; we try to uphold our reputation and practice hard. We look at what we’ve messed up. We work on everybody being able to do everything and be well-rounded players.”
Froemming is uncommitted in terms of college now, but some school is going to be grateful for her wide range of skills.
“We realized how good we were playing this weekend, and we were so in the moment there,” she said about Game 2. “We’ve been in that situation, and we wanted to fix what was happening. It’s hard with the (expectations), but this is great group of girls, and playing volleyball is what we want to do.”
In the third-place match, Colorado Juniors got past Aspire, 16-25, 25-20, 15-11.
From game to game inside a volleyball match, the players and coaches remain the same, but it’s amazing how strengths and weaknesses are in constant flux.
For the Texas Advantage 14’s on Monday, their ability to build leads in the best moments and learn lessons in the tough times made the difference, as they toppled Sunshine 25-17, 16-25, 15-11 to claim the 14 Open title at the Triple Crown Volleyball NIT. It’s the second straight 14 Open crown for TAV at the Salt Palace Convention Center, and one that certainly could have gone Sunshine’s way late in Game 3.
But TAV got some timely kills from Natalie Glenn, forced Sunshine into some tough shots, and then polished the day off with a kill from Jordyn Williams to claim first place. A victory seemed likely after TAV played so well in Game 1, but Sunshine proved very disruptive to those thoughts.
“I don’t think our energy in Game 2 was very good. I told them in the break we needed high energy all the time, point by point, but we just didn’t have it,” said TAV coach Joe Jablonski, whose team played late Sunday in a three-set win over Arizona Storm and had to turn around for an 8:30 a.m. start Monday. “We struggled there, but we found it in the third set.”
“I think we were lazing around, and maybe we didn’t try as hard. But we pulled it out,” Williams said. “It’s amazing to win this, all the energy in the room, having everyone around me – it’s a great feeling to win. We were a little tired, and I could not get out of bed this morning, but you know, I just wanted to play.”
Keying Sunshine’s rally and push to extend the match were several players, including setter Kate Kilroy and outside hitter Elia Rubin, who is only 12 years old but already moves and competes with a presence you might see in 18-year-olds.
Game 3 was also notable for the fact both teams made a bunch of mistakes – service errors, shots flying long – but TAV found composure and a better touch on their shots just in time.
“We had to keep our momentum there and talk to each other, and put the ball in the court,” said Glenn, whose father Terry had an 11-year career as a wide receiver in the NFL. “It’s been highs and lows for us this year, got second in our last tournament, but it’s been fun.”
“In pressure situations, you don’t want to make that error and lose a point, but I’m glad we were still aggressive in Game 3,” Williams added. “We sided out quickly; we had a few errors, but we worked together.”
“It was frustrating for sure, but the most important thing to do is get the ball in play,” Jablonski said. “Make the other team play great volleyball to beat you.”
In the third-place match, the Colorado Juniors beat the Arizona Storm, 22-25, 25-21, 15-4.
Just because you ask your team to finish strong in a championship match doesn’t always mean you get your wish.
But Munciana coach Mike Lingenfelter had to believe his 18 Open team was prepared to meet his expectations, albeit in a tough moment against A4 Monday at the Triple Crown Volleyball NIT. Deep into Game 3, with Munciana clinging to a 9-7 lead, he called a timeout to set the table and then watched his players feast under pressure.
A kill by Jonni Parker (who is committed to Ohio State); a block at the net that led to an A4 error; a kill by Nia Robinson (Northwestern); and then a remarkable pancake save by Melani Shaffmaster (Minnesota) that led to a kill by Robinson – that was enough for Munciana to claim the crown with a 25-16, 18-25, 15-10 victory.
Munciana won every match it played at the TCS NIT, a wildly exciting achievement given the depth and strength of the competition.
“We came into this not wanting to be consumed by the result; we wanted to use this for what it is – the best event in the country to develop your process and to learn. This is a great laboratory to learn,” Lingenfelter said. “Late in Game 3, it was all out-of-system swings by Nia. She played out of her mind; she’s a bit unsung. We have a lot of kids who got accolades when they were younger, but Nia is the glue. That was the match.”
“After that timeout, we just couldn’t let them score that next point. We came out strong; we knew they had a strategy to win that point, but we were able to finish it,” said Robinson, who also had the final two kills of the match. “Game 1, our defense was outstanding – the back row was covering everything. Game 2, the defense slowed down and we got in our own heads a little bit.
“Mike told me to get it home, and I knew he was counting on me. So I went and played my best.”
Parker looks destined to enjoy a successful college career, able to provide a menacing jump serve, soft hands and wicked swings at the ball.
“We finally got our energy back after that second set, which really drove us home. It was our energy and our game that brought us back, and Nia’s been a really good leader all season,” Parker said. “I’m proud of what we did. (Pressure) is what makes us who we are, and it’s part of the fun. We want to make ourselves better and the team better. We had a couple plays where we were just bouncing balls off each other to get them over, and that’s where a lot of the energy comes from.”
In the third-place match, Skyline beat Top Select 25-20, 25-21.