By Kyle Koso
It’s a little crazy to ever question the Munciana Samurai 18’s, even when it seems like they will run out of time before finding an answer.
With a game and a half in the books Monday at the Triple Crown Volleyball NIT, Munciana was down 0-1 and staring at a five-point deficit against Legacy in the title match of the 18 Elite, so calling the situation bleak might have actually been charitable. But the Samurai (who won the 18’s here a year ago) first pulled even, then ahead, then used all their numerous skills and resources to win Game 3, posting a 18-25, 26-24, 15-13 victory at the Salt Palace Convention Center.
After falling behind 16-11 in Game 2, Munciana got a couple aces from Megan Miller (who will play at Nebraska next year), kills from Jonni Parker (Penn State) and Bonnie Bostic (Yale, 2019) and a few timely mistakes by Legacy to take a 19-18 lead. At 23-all, the match’s longest point played out, ending with a Parker kill, and two more kills from her secured the game and the roots of an amazing comeback.
In Game 3, Munciana never allowed itself to get in serious trouble again. A bizarre-looking karate-chop shot from Bostic flipped over the net and to the ground for game point, and an error by Legacy finished the drama.
“It’s the passion that we all have. We are a team full of winners, and we hate to lose,” said Alyiah Wells, whose offensive prowess played a huge role in keeping Munciana in touch. “We owed it to ourselves after winning the second game that we should push to the end. We didn’t put enough service pressure on them early, and they could play in system a lot. It’s a lot easier to set in system, and it’s harder for the defense to read.”
Munciana will practice coming back from deficits as large as 15 points, but to see them pull off this type of comeback in a national-scale championship is a different thing altogether. Legacy certainly made it interesting, featuring a fleet of tenacious and skilled hitters, as well as a rock-wall defense.
“We were able to flip the switch and began to bring the energy we didn’t start with in that second set,” said Parker, who consistently provides the set, kill, block or dig her team needs at a given moment. “We got on a run, and that gave us the momentum we needed. We had to make adjustments and began to get some (good play) under our belt. We are fighting to get to June, our end goal, and this type of competition is definitely good for that.”
Munciana coach Mike Lingenfelter simply thought the refuse-to-lose mindset of his roster, baked into the team from countless hours of preparation, made the difference.
“We finally got a run, we needed three together I told them … that one part of the second game was the only time we had a run, and we needed that,” he said. “I told them this in one of the huddles -- every kid on this team has won a national championship except for one, and that kid has two state championships. That DNA kicks in at some point, and it’s part of the legacy we’ve built.
“This event is second to none. I looked at all the other President’s Day tournaments going on, and kudos to them all … we host one ourselves … but there’s no comparison to this event in regards to competition, event management, hospitality. To win this is a big deal because 90 percent of the big-time teams are in this thing. It’s a special win.”
By Kyle Koso
Given the caliber of teams at the Triple Crown Volleyball NIT, it certainly follows that close games and tight matches are the standard experiences for teams.
The pressure of deadlocked scores and the desire for anything resembling an edge certainly was on the minds of all at the 16 Elite title match Monday, with OTVA and Wave both showing strengths that had to be respected. But in Game 1, a 17-all tie eventually went to OTVA, and a Game 2 13-all tie also tipped OTVA’s way, giving them a 25-19, 25-16 victory at the Salt Palace Convention Center.
Sydney Conley’s work at the net on defense, and some wicked swings on offense, made the difference in Game 1, with Lauren Gips muscling up nicely on Game 2. In the end, OTVA kept hanging around on the scoreboard until their tactics and talents made the difference in the stretch run.
“We were able to figure out what the other side was doing, and then make the adjustments. We were good up through the middle of the game and could then finish them out,” said OTVA coach Roberto Santasofia. “I’m proud of the girls; we can make adjustments just like that, and this was a good tournament.”
This OTVA unit, with three different players, won the 15 Elite at this tournament in 2017, so there’s not a lot that rattles this roster. That trait was even more evident earlier Monday, when they had to come back from a game down to Coast before working their way through to a 21-235, 25-20, 15-12 victory.
“The first games of the day, I guess you could say we weren’t woken up. But after the second set when we know what they are running, things usually go better for us,” said setter Cierra Jenkins, whose left-handed skill set shined the entire match whether she needed a kill or an assist. “Our blocking improved whenever it got close in the final. We noticed how different teams progressed from last year, so we need to get in the gym and work harder. We need to work on getting off to a good start.”
“We didn’t have our best match individually, but as a team and group and family, it was awesome. We were able to come back, and that was a very good team on the other side,” said Santasofia about the Coast comeback.
One of the team’s backbones is clearly libero Ellie McKissock, who kept countless points alive with her back-row dives. She began noticing her ability to affect competition with her speed at age 12, while playing basketball.
“We came out a little timid with our serving (in the final), but we got a lead with our serving after a while,” she said. “That put some pressure on them. And it’s very comfortable on our side when you have 6-foot-1, 6-foot-3, people on your team. They’ll cover you, and they have to find those holes in the defense.”
The Arizona Storm 15 Elite team played eight matches at the Triple Crown Volleyball NIT and lost only one to Texas Advantage Black, before closing out Aspire (another program from Arizona) in the championship game Monday, 28-26, 25-22.
After losing to TAV in their first match of the tournament, the Storm won seven straight with wins over Mad Frog and A5 Mizuno on Saturday, followed that with sweeps of K2, Skyline and Sunshine on Sunday, then worked past Mad Frog again Monday before prevailing in the final.
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.”
By Marcos Aragon
The old but often accurate saying of “defense wins championships” is exactly how the Arizona Storm captured the 17 Elite title over Sunshine Westside on Monday at the Triple Crown Volleyball NIT in Salt Lake City.
The Storm stumbled in places early but rallied in time behind stellar defense and precision hitting to post a hard-earned three setter, 18-25, 25-15, 15-13.
As the Storm blocked out the Sunshine for the championship, head coach Jami Rolfes along with setter Shannon Shields and outside hitter Amber Stivrins all pointed to libero Nicole Hoff as the main component for the team’s victory.
“(Hoff) doesn’t get a lot of credit; she is a stud,” explained Rolfes, “She kept us in this match. She made some amazing plays. I couldn’t be more proud of that kid.”
“I think I wanna give a shout out to Nicole, our libero for that one,” said Stivrins. “She really showed up and balled out there.”
“I feel like the middle back and Nicole really were able to see the shots and pick them up,” Shields added.
Shutting down the offense of Sunshine was no easy task. In the first set, Sunshine hitters were able to get past the Storm blockers and knock down easy kills. The back row defense for Sunshine along with their blockers up front sealed great blocks, and the hitters from Storm were held in check.
From the second set on, the Storm came out more aggressively and began to play like an entirely different team. The hitting angles for Stivrins and Kate Grimmer opened up like freeway lanes, and they got to work immediately. Stivrins said it was more of a “mental block” for the team which is used to attacking long blockers like Sunshine’s, and the shots started to fall after the mental block was removed.
“We got in our head and thought we had to do crazy shots to get around it, when really we just had to play our game and control our side of the net,” Stivrins admitted.
“It was a lot of a confidence thing,” said Rolfes. “When there’s big blockers, you tend to not swing as hard or just don’t swing the same. I was just trying to build up their confidence to not be afraid of the block and go after it.”
One of the themes of the tournament that the Storm implemented involved grit. After losing the first set, the Storm poured it on Sunshine, 25-15. The final set was the gritty affair where the Storm jumped out early but couldn’t close out Sunshine until a service error gave the Storm the title, 15-13.
“I am so excited, it’s beyond words. This whole tournament we’ve made strides,” said Rolfes, “To keep playing at a high level and after losing game one, it wasn’t our best, and just to stay in it and stay confident and know that we were capable of coming back. These girls are fighters.”
Despite the Storm losing the first set, their confidence level never seemed to dwindle. They kept their heads up and continued to play their style of volleyball.
“I feel like we really, really wanted it,” said Shields.
“This year we really picked it up and showed up. It’s always fun to play at your best,” said Stivrins.
SALT LAKE CITY, UT -- While the sport of volleyball continues to grow and evolve in the youth/club space, there are historical markers that give the nation a comprehensive look at the level of talent in the game.
One of those is the annual Fab 50 and Top 25 Underclassmen to Watch list, researched and sponsored by VolleyballMag.com. In 2018, the Fab 50 members range from 5-foot-5 libero Megan Miller to 6-foot-7 Julia Wohlert; all players are heading to NCAA D-I programs and hoping to make an impact at the college level.
The Triple Crown Volleyball NIT, held this President's Day Weekend at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, brought many of these players and/or their club teams to the event, with more than 435 clubs attending. A total of 33 players represented clubs that attended the TC NIT from the Fab 50 list, while 13 of the Top 25 Underclassmen came from clubs that competed at the event.
Fab 50 List
Name, Height, Position, High School, Club, College
Mica Allison, 6-1, S, St. Thomas More (Champaign, Illinois), Illini Elite, Auburn
Brooke Andersen, 5-11, OH, Lake County (Hartland, Wisconsin), Milwaukee Sting, Iowa State
Karson Bacon, 6-4, MB, Rancho Cucamonga (California), TStreet, Oregon
Ava Bell, 6-1, MB, Rouse (Leander, Texas), Austin Performance, North Carolina
Gabby Blossom, 5-9, S, St. Joe’s (St. Louis, Missouri), Rockwood Thunder, Penn State
Diana Brown, 6-1, S, St. Francis de Sales (Columbus, Ohio), Mintonette, Illinois
Holly Campbell, 6-4, MB, Westlake (Austin, Texas), Austin Jrs., Stanford
Allyson Cathey, 6-0, OH, New Albany (Indiana), KIVA, Penn State
Devon Chang, 5-11, S, Santa Margarita (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.), A4, UCLA
Grace Cleveland, 6-3, MB, Normal (Illinois), Illini Elite, Purdue
Shannon Crenshaw, 6-2, OH, Bishop Moore (Orlando, Florida), Top Select, Washington
Dani Cole, 6-3, RS, Rouse (Leander, Texas), Austin Jrs., Washington
Destiny Cox, 6-2, OH, Carrboro (North Carolina), Triangle, North Carolina
Capri Davis, 6-1, OH, Lake Ridge (Mansfield, Texas), Texas Image, Nebraska
Lauren Dooley, 6-6, MB, Plano East (Plano, Texas), Skyline, Florida
Chandler Duff, 6-2, MB, Grosse Pointe (Michigan) South, Legacy, Oregon
Mackenzie Fidelak, 6-1, S-RS, Niwot (Colorado), Norco, Stanford
Riley Fischer, 5-6, Libero, Harrison (Kennesaw, Georgia), A5, Florida
Whitney Forman, 6-3, MB, Langham Creek (Houston, Texas), TX Tornados, LSU
Heather Gneiting, 6-4, MB, Pleasant Grove (Utah), Club V, BYU
Serena Gray, 6-2, MB, Temple City (California), San Gabriel Elite, Penn State
Marin Grote, 6-4, MB-OH, Burroughs (Burbank, California), San Gabriel Elite, Washington
Mia Grunze, 6-2, OH, Waterford (Wisconsin), Milwaukee Sting, Ohio State
Lexi Hadrych, 6-1, OH, Vista Murrieta (Murrieta, California), COAST, UCLA
Thayer Hall, 6-4, OH, Dorman (Roebuck, South Carolina), Upward Stars, Florida
Nicklin Hames, 5-11, S, Webb School (Knoxville, Tennessee), K2, Nebraska
Jenna Hampton, 5-6, Libero, Berkeley (Tampa, Florida), OTVA, Penn State
Kaitlyn Hord, 6-4, MB, Henry Clay (Lexington, Kentucky), Lexington United, Penn State
Rainelle Jones, 6-2, MB, Oxon Hill (Maryland), Metro VBC, Maryland
Jael Johnson, 6-4, MB, Avon (Indiana), Circle City, Purdue
CC McGraw, 5-9, Libero, Prior Lake (Savage, Minnesota), MN Select, Minnesota
Megan Miller, 5-5, Libero, Alexandria (Indiana)-Monroe, Munciana, Nebraska
Marlie Monserez, 6-0, S, Bishop Moore (Orlando, Florida), OTVA, Florida
Gloria Mutiri, 6-2, RS, Sand Springs (Oklahoma), Club ONE, Kansas State
Charley Niego, 6-0, OH, Mother McAuley (Chicago, Illinois), Michio, Notre Dame
Brooke Nuneviller, 5-11, Libero-OH, Corona del Sol (Tempe, Arizona), Aspire, Oregon
Zoe Nunez, 5-11, S, Keith Country Day (Rockford, Illinois), Fusion, Notre Dame
Erin O’Leary, 5-10, S, Novi (Michigan), Legacy, Michigan
Asjia O’Neal, 6-3, MB, Carroll (Southlake, Texas), TAV, Texas
Jonni Parker, 6-1, S-RS, Miami East (Casstown, Ohio), Munciana, Penn State
Amanda Phegley, 6-4, MN, Berkeley (Tampa, Florida), OTVA, Penn State
Ella May Powell, 6-0, S, Fayetteville (Arkansas), Ozark Jrs., Washington
Kylie Robinson, 5-9, S, Claremont (California), San Gabriel Elite, Oregon
Adanna Rollins, 6-0, OH, Hebron (Carrollton, Texas), TAV, Minnesota
Brooklyn Schirmer, 6-1, OH, Redondo Union (R. Beach, Calif.), Long Beach, USC
Callie Schwarzenbach, 6-5, MB, Kearney (Missouri), KC Power, Nebraska
Alli Stumler, 6-1, OH, Christian Academy Indiana (New Albany, Ind.), KIVA, Kentucky
Haley Warner, 6-2, RS, Fayetteville (Arkansas), Ozark Jrs., Florida
Julia Wohlert, 6-7, RS-MB, Decatur Central (Indianapolis, Ind.), Circle City, Wisconsin
Jaela Zimmerman, 6-2, OH, Malcolm (Nebraska), VC Nebraska, Creighton
Top 10 Players in Class of 2018
1. Thayer Hall (Upward Stars)
2. Nicklin Hames (K2)
3. Asjia O'Neal (TAV)
4. Kaitlyn Hord (Lexington United)
5. Jonni Parker (Munciana)
6. Serena Gray (San Gabriel Elite)
7. Heather Gneiting (Club V)
8. Adanna Rollins (TAV)
9. Ella May Powell (Ozark Juniors)
10. CC McGraw (MN Select)
2018 VolleyballMag.com/Triple Crown Sports 25 Underclassmen to Watch List
Name, Height, Position, Year, High School, Club, College Commit
Caitie Baird, 6-3, OH, Jr., Perry Meridian (Indianapolis, Ind.), Circle City, Stanford
Ally Batenhorst, 6-4, OH-MB, Fresh., Seven Lakes (Katy, Texas), Houston Juniors, NA
Naomi Cabello, 6-1, S, Soph., East Ridge (Clermont, Florida), Top Select, Texas
Jade Demps, 6-1, OH-MB, Broughton (Raleigh, North Carolina), Triangle, Wisconsin
Logan Eggleston, 6-2, OH, Jr., Brentwood (Tennessee), Alliance, Texas
Skylar Fields. 6-2, OH, Jr., Ridge Point (Missouri City, Texas), Houston Jrs., Texas
Rylee Gray, 6-2, MB, Fresh., Elkhorn South (Omaha, Nebraska), Nebraska Elite, NA
Gabby Gonzales, 6-4, OH, Jr., Walton (Georgia), A5, Ohio State
Birdie Hendrickson, 6-1, S, Soph., Logan-Rogersville (Missouri), Springfield Jrs., Florida
Madison Horin, 6-3, MB, Jr., Munster (Indiana), 1st Alliance, USC
Ngozi Iloh, 6-1, MB, Fresh., McIntosh (Peachtree City, Georgia), A5 South, NA
Kendall Kipp, 6-3, MB, Jr., Corona del Mar (Newport Beach, Calif.), Laguna Beach, Stanford
Lindsay Krause, 6-3, OH, Fresh., Skutt (Omaha, Nebraska), NE Premier, Nebraska
Madi Kubik, 6-1, OH, Jr., Valley (West Des Moines, Iowa), CIS, Nebraska
Taylor Landfair, 6-5, OH, Soph., Plainfield (Central), Illinois, Sports Performance, Minnesota
Emily Londot, 6-2, MB, Fresh., Utica (Ohio), Mintonette, NA
Kami Miner, 5-11, S-RS, Fresh., Redondo Union (Redondo Beach, Calif.), NA, NA
Kennedi Orr, 6-0, S, Fresh., Eagan (Minnesota), Northern Lights, Nebraska
Molly Phillips, 6-4, MB, Jr., Mansfield (Texas), Texas Image, Texas
McKenna Vicini, 6-2, MB, Jr., Lexington (Kentucky) Catholic, Lexington United, Stanford
Devyn Robinson, 6-0, MB, Soph., Centennial (Ankeny, Iowa), Central Iowa, Wisconsin
Jessica Robinson, 6-1, OH, Jr., Troy (Michigan), Legacy, Michigan
Melani Shaffmaster, 6-4, S, Soph., New Castle (Indiana), Munciana, Minnesota
Madison Williams, 6-1, OH, Soph., Lake Ridge (Mansfield, Texas), TAV, Texas
Selina Xu, 5-11, S, Jr., Menlo (Atherton, California), Vision, NA
By Marcos Aragon
For Shockwave 17-1, the last 24 hours have been full of turmoil and rough times. But today’s matchup against Athena 17 Gold was anything but rough for them at the Triple Crown Volleyball NIT.
Shockwave head coach Scott Larkin knew his team’s energy level had to be higher Sunday after his team endured a rough set of circumstances prior to Saturday night’s final match.
“It was great today, last night was rough. We got done with pool and had a three-way tie for first. We had to sit for an hour and wait for a team to come back. It was really rough,” said Larkin. “We didn’t come back to play. We got hammered last night in our playoff match, and they came ready to play today.”
By the time Shockwave finished their last match of the night, it was around 11:45 pm. The team is from Wichita, KS, and is not used to the time change. For the players internally, it was nearly 1 am for them when the match ended and most of the team did not get to sleep until a short while later.
Rather than fold to excuses, Shockwave took out their frustrations on Athena, claiming a 25-15, 25-21 victory in the 17’s Club division.
“We had a bit of a rough day, so I think we brought that energy into today and we weren’t going to let that rough start yesterday stop us,” said Shockwave player Sarah Brittain. “When your teammates do really great things, it makes you get more excited… we just carried on each other’s energy.”
Shockwave dominated the net both defensively and offensively. Athena’s hitters struggled mightily to get the ball past the Shockwave blockers. The length of Shockwave’s players along the net was an enormous problem for Athena that they went after time and time again. Larkin credited the physical advantage they had and figuring out what shots Athena liked to take.
“I don’t want to say they were predictable, but they had their favorite shots that we were able to take away,” added Larkin.
“Before the game, our coach said ‘defense wins championships’ so they just really worked on not necessarily closing the block but if they leave holes for us it really helps the back row get in there and step in and get some digs,” said Brittain. “They did their part and as a back row, we just try to do ours.”
The defense was the foundation for the win, but the offense of Shockwave was surgical in their shot selection. When Athena played aggressively at the net, Shockwave simply just put the ball around their blockers. The weak spot for Athena was the center of their defense and the middles, so Shockwave set up for success in that area.
Brittain compared last night’s energy to today’s saying they were “more settled in, more focused and ready to take care of business.”
By Marcos Aragon
The Aspire 18 Rox team has been the true definition of “survive and advance” at the Triple Crown Volleyball NIT.
The team is playing with a short-handed roster but has continued through the tournament like nothing has changed. The lack of depth didn’t come back to bite Aspire (AZ) on Sunday as they defeated A5 Mizuno 18-Bob in three sets, 22-25, 25-19, 15-12 to advance to the semifnals of the 18 Elite division.
With a thin bench behind him, Aspire head coach Ryan Tolman was forced to get creative with his rotations and game plans.
“We’ve got a couple of girls who are out right now. One of our middles is out and we’re missing a defensive specialist,” Tolman said. “We’re trying to manage some girls in some new spots and I think we’re playing well.”
Aspire’s first set was riddled with some early mistakes. Many of the first points surrendered to A5 (GA) were from service errors and players being out of position defensively. Aspire fell behind but made up for it towards the end of the match, getting more in sync despite being down.
Adjustments were made after the first set and Aspire looked like a completely different team, leaping out to a 20-8 lead. A5’s outstanding defense from the first set looked like it had been figured out by Aspire. The weak spot in A5’s defense throughout the match was the center, and Aspire ran more sets for their middles and attacked with smart shots, picking out their spots with precision.
“We’ve played (A5) a number of times, and they always give us fits like that. It’s a little bit of a different defensive scheme, so it takes some time getting used to,” said Tolman. “We just kept at it. We know where we can score some points at times. It’s a matter of just trying not to score more than one point at a time. Just get the ball in play and make them continue to beat you. Late we were able to find some holes, which was nice.”
Libero Anna Morse admitted to being fatigued after logging so many minutes on the floor but knows she and her team must stay ready to go for their next match.
“We’re all pretty tired because we’ve all been playing pretty much every game, but we’re really excited,” said Morse. “Everyone stepping up was really important and I think we all felt a little bit of pressure at least in the first set we lost -- but we were really pumped up, we knew this was it. We knew we had to win the next two and everyone really stepped up and showed out.”
“The message was to stay the course, trust your training, be ready to play when you get the chance, and they did that,” said Tolman.
In the 18 Elite semis, Aspire will face defending champion Munciana Samurai at 10 a.m. Monday, with Legacy Elite and the Idaho Crush squaring off at 11 a.m. The 18 Elite championship will be decided at 1 p.m., with the match broadcast by ESPN3.
by Kyle Koso
Chugging through their work Saturday at the Triple Crown Volleyball NIT, the Skyline 15 Elite from Dallas hadn’t faced much drama by the midpoint of their task, with one win in the books and a 1-0 lead against Sky High (Chicago) in their second match.
The sport is notorious for momentum shifts, however, and in the younger age groups the mood can shift even more drastically, and sure enough Skyline suddenly looked earthbound and stressed in Game 2. But Mark Flores’ squad found their spring and savvy in time, posting a 25-19, 20-25, 15-10 victory to lift spirits heading into their final contest later in the session.
Skyline took care of Game 1 in eye-popping fashion, as Shea Shore pulled off a miracle save at the net that ended up as a winner; that made it game point, and Shore closed it with a wicked kill from the right side. Sky High more than recovered, taking a big lead and leaving Flores a little short on solutions.
“Our passing fell apart; we were doing some different things with the lineup, and we struggled,” Flores said. “In Game 3, our serving was tough and accurate, and we weren’t making mistakes. We kept the ball in play and let them make the errors.
“We want the girls to be competing to make a run at the podium. If we don’t set that expectation, then they’ll come in and not even try. We play a lot of these teams, and we came in with a lower seed because of our finish in nationals last year. We had some bad injuries; we are hoping to redeem ourselves and possibly make a statement.”
In her own quiet way, Maya Joseph certainly spoke up with her play in Game 3, giving Skyline an early lead with two big kills. The teams stayed very close and were tied at 8-all; Sky High was hesitant on one play and lost a point, then lost another on a tough service error that pout Skyline up, 12-9.
Joseph smoked a big kill to make it 14-10, and the team defense was perfect at the end, authoring a block for the final point.
“We not a team that talks a lot, but in the first set we were talking more … we had more energy, but we got ahead of ourselves,” Joseph said. “We needed to slow things down and play our game, not just what they gave us. I like to get amped up (in pressure situations); the energy of having something on the line makes me want to play better, and when you get the kill it feels really good, because everyone is hyped for you. It’s a good moment.”
by Marcos Aragon
The Arizona Storm 17 Thunder is brewing after their first win of the Triple Crown Volleyball NIT, over Summit 17 National in straight sets. Solid blocking and outstanding kills fueled the Storm to victory Saturday.
But the way that Storm setter Shannon Shields manipulated the Summit blockers to set up her teammates was nothing short of masterful.
“I give a ton of credit to that kid,” said Storm head coach Jami Rolfes, who praised Shields’ ability to find splits for her hitters to exploit.
“Shannon is amazing,” added Rolfes, “She’s really good at seeing the block and going opposite the flow and getting our splits, and that’s huge in our offense. I know we look big but compared to some of these teams we play, we really rely on those splits … so she does an amazing job at just seeing what the blockers are doing and going opposite.”
Summit led early in the first set but once it was tied at 10-10, they lost a hold of the set for good. The Storm won 25-21 behind terrific blocking down the stretch, never allowing Summit to regain the lead or get within one point.
The second set belonged entirely to the Storm. They came out hot due to their defense saving possessions and their hitters nailing their shots. The Storm blew over Summit, 25-12.
“We worked a ton on blocking, so it was nice to actually see it show up this match,” said Rolfes, “If we can set up a good block, our defense can just basically set themselves up to dig balls … I think big plays on defense gets the team going, too, and it brings up that energy level and keeps them hyped. I’m super proud of these girls and how they played that match.”
Shields knows how important it is to her team for her to set up them up successfully but also looks at how much they come together during the matches as a big component for their win.
“I feel like the chemistry we’ve had throughout the years with this team has been really great,” Shields said. “We got two new players this year, and I feel like they came in and they’re ready to go. It’s been really fun.”
After praising her new teammates this season, Shields looked back on last season’s tournament and wants her team to atone for their underwhelming performance.
“I think we’re ready to just do it. The year before, we didn’t do as well as we thought we would, and I think it’s time for some redemption.”
Despite the loss, Summit head coach Andy Gass is still confident in his girls’ ability to regroup and come back strong.
“I’m always ready to go, so I know they will be too. We were 2-3 at nationals and ended up third in the nation,” he said. “We know how to bounce back after not having great days or tough matches and losing and stuff; they always rebound strong and play through it.”
by Bradey King
The 16’s Redwood City, CA-based Red Rock Volleyball Club faced a local Club V roster in what was both teams’ final match of Day 1 at the Triple Crown Volleyball NIT in Salt Lake City, UT. After an exciting back and forth battle, Red Rock came out on top and earned their second win of the day.
In Game 1, there was no hesitation to attack from either team. The score was tied several times until a few game-changing blocks from the Red Rock middle shifted the momentum and gave them a four-point lead. The set ended on a Club V service error resulting in a 25-19 Red Rock victory.
Eager to bounce back in Game 2, Club V was energetic and in command for most of the set. However, the hard-hitting Red Rock squad was relentless. Following a timeout, Red Rock continued to apply pressure, eventually causing back-to-back Club V mistakes and taking their first lead of the set, 18-17. After taking the lead, the team didn’t hold back. A few big kills and timely serves later and Red Rock grabbed a comeback win, taking Game 2, 25-20.
Both teams were evenly matched but the difference in the game was the striking composure shown by Red Rock after Club V took early leads in both sets. They stuck to their “next play” mentality, trusted one another and ultimately took advantage of Club V mistakes.
“Today was a solid day for us. These girls love each other and fight for each other and it’s fun to coach them,” said Red Rock head coach Bobby Walton, clearly pleased with his team’s 2-1 effort on the day.
Witnessing their maturity and composure on the court, you’d think this team had been playing together for years, however that’s not the case. Walton explained that there are only four returners on the roster this year, making their chemistry that much more impressive.
Among the returners is Michelle Ohwobete, a powerful and consistent outside hitter. With 430+ top tier teams and hundreds of college coaches swarming the building, the NIT stage can be overwhelming for some, but Ohwobete isn’t afraid of the challenge. “I love seeing competition and I love seeing people that are better than me because I can learn so much from them and see how I can get to the next level,” she said.
Playing right alongside Ohwobete is middle-hitter Kate Rose. Rose was impressive in multiple facets of the game, ultimately sealing the deal in Game 2 with several solid serves.
“Being such a short middle it kind-of forces me to be versatile because different coaches have wanted me to play different positions. Coach Walton has been really working with me on my serves so it can enable me to play back row when needed,” Rose said.
by Kyle Koso
Hoping to finish the day with more victories than losses, the OTVA (Florida) 16 Elite squad clearly figured out how to build a lead late Saturday at the Triple Crown Volleyball NIT.
Keeping that advantage was another question, but OTVA (2-1 overall) weathered the low mood of those low moments and fought back, claiming a 25-23, 25-23 victory over the Colorado Juniors 16s (2-1) at the Salt Palace Convention Center. Playoff brackets and next opponents will be determined later Saturday.
OTVA led early in Game 1, then fell behind as much as 19-16 before rebounding – Colorado missed a chance to capitalize on a free ball, which tied the score at 23-all, and then Sydney Conley got a huge block for OTVA to give them game point. Libero Elli McKissock, who ranged all over the court and had a very strong match, finished it with an ace.
In Game 2, OTVA led 9-4 and 19-14, but both times Colorado fought back, taking a 20-19 lead at one point. But OTVA (which won the TC NIT title as 15s in 2017) blocked well, and another big dig by McKissock kept a point alive that helped her team wrap up the match.
“I played a few kids who didn’t have a chance to play in the first matches; they were a little nervous, and our serve receive went down a little bit,” said OTVA head coach Roberto Santasofia. “We finished strong, so that’s good for us. I talk to the girls about getting better every day – winning is the consequence of the hard work you put in.”
Colorado’s lineup, which has the potential to bother other teams once the brackets begin, showed a lot of muscle with Anna Davis, Mac Russ and Cassie Davis, the latter of whom put down a couple key points late in Game 2 to keep the drama building.
But OTVA had weapons as well, with Taylor Head and Leandra Mangual-Duran swinging effectively.
“We tried to take a breath (after losing the lead) and regroup. After a couple points, we did get down, but we try to build it back up,” said Head, who was solid in both full-swing kills as well as shots that required subtle placement. “We depend on each other. We didn’t have our best day today, and we’re not used to losing. We will regroup tomorrow and try even harder.”
“I think we need to make sure we play our game and remain calm,” Conley said. “We’re not ranked as high this year, so we’re thinking about working hard and getting back to No. 1.”
by Marcos Aragon
For Tstreet 18-Troy and the Milwaukee Sting 18 Gold, who both entered Saturday’s 18 Elite matchup at 0-2, a win was monumental for the rest of their weekend at the Triple Crown Volleyball NIT.
Ultimately, Sting head coach Scott Blackmon felt being winless early wasn’t a huge problem; instead, he was more concerned with his team not playing for each other when they needed it.
“We have not played very well on Day 1 at any tournament, so we weren’t too worried with the two losses -- we know we’re better, we made a crap ton of errors,” said Blackmon. “The biggest thing is the kids didn’t do a very good job of playing for one another, playing together. They did a much better job of coming together in that last match and keeping the intensity level a little bit higher.”
From the opening serve, the Sting found themselves down early on the wrong side of strong play from the Tstreet hitters. The first set was a back-and-forth affair up until 18-18 when the Sting had two key blocks to give them a 20-18 lead. They would not look back after that and went on to win 25-20.
The second set was the Sting’s right away as they lead wire to wire. They closed out Tstreet 25-19, behind excellent team defense and a few timely kills during rallies.
“Defensively, I thought we did a lot better,” said Blackmon, “Our setters have not been playing the best defense today, and I think in the last match the setters did a much better job playing defense and that was a big difference maker. They just got after it. I just think mentally they were more engaged in that match than they have been all day, that’s the bottom line.”
Mia Grunze of the Sting made her presence known along the net with strong swings and tough blocks but is proud of all of the girls on her team for cheering each other on and making sure the team chemistry didn’t blow up.
“I think in that match we really played for each other and came together and encouraged each other whereas in the previous matches today we were a little off on that. Once we pulled it together, that’s what helped us out,” said Grunze.
“It helps us individually if somebody makes a mistake and nobody cheers you on, it brings everybody down so then our whole level of play goes down,” added Grunze, “If you know you can come to the middle to your team and they believe in you and they know you can get the next ball, it takes a little more stress off of you and lets you play harder and play all out easier.”
By Kyle Koso
Sure, there are times when the competitive juices between volleyball coaches start to churn. But it’s also nice to know you can work back from heated emotions to sharing a cold one together.
One of the touches of kindness at the Triple Crown Volleyball NIT is the now-standard and much appreciated Coaches Party and Check-In, held in 2018 at one of the banquet rooms at the Salt Palace Convention Center. Club and college coaches did a little paperwork and then filed away their concerns for the rest of the night, enjoying some food and drink and the chance to reconnect with their peers.
“The Triple Crown organization, and specifically Sean Hardy, does a great job connecting college staff and club coaches, and help makes this big community look like a small one,” said Brennan Dean, director of Wave Volleyball. “It’s great to find out what’s going on in each other’s programs, where teams happen to be and what the college needs are. It’s a really enjoyable experience, to get a platform like this where we can hang out, eat and drink together … it’s very special.”
No doubt, the chance to slip away from the whistles and work of the day was appreciated. Friday marked a packed day on the TC NIT slate with college camps, unsigned player workouts and other responsibilities, all one day before the tournament begins in earnest.
“There’s a room of competitive people here with a deep desire to win and achieve; there’s a lot of respect toward one another, and there’s a lot of collaboration and deep friendships,” Dean added. “People move around, in college and the club world, but you build larger friendships through those connections.”
By Marcos Aragon
Before the madness of the Triple Crown NIT three-day tournament, there is an opportunity for the juniors and seniors who haven’t committed to a school yet to showcase their talents for the coaches in attendance. The Unsigned Senior/Junior Workout this year had 150 players going through different positional drills with the help of coaches from the ASICS Munciana club program.
“The biggest thing for us is you get to see them in isolated context where you know when they’re gonna see the ball, and you are guaranteed eyes on repetitions where in the game setting you won’t necessarily see them take swings or take passes or take sets on a regular basis, so it’s nice to see them in a predictable situation,” said Christopher Duenow, assistant head coach of Concordia University Irvine.
Coaches will evaluate players on how they do in the various drills but often look beyond just physical traits and examine personality and how players interact on the court.
“Initially, we’re just looking for athleticism, what their skill level is. To some degree, you’re looking at what their self confidence is in a setting they’re unfamiliar with, so it gives you a little bit of a taste of just what their presence is like, personality-wise. But mostly you’re just looking for what their foundational level is, athletically and skill wise,” added Duenow.
Head coach Sue Delaney from Salt Lake Community College echoed Duenow’s evaluation tactics, saying that athleticism is the first thing she looks for, especially at a two-year junior college like SLCC where she and her staff must recruit new players just about yearly.
“Usually every year we need to recruit for every position. I don’t know how many kids are here but it’s a lot to look at. So sometimes we look for the undersized kid, because the 6’1” setters are gonna go probably to a higher level... It’s a good opportunity for them to kind of see what level they’re at and gauge that,” said Delaney.
Both Delaney and Duenow had eyes on players who were working out in the showcase. They agreed on the importance for them to come out and see these players who haven’t been signed yet to try and persuade them to come join their respective schools.
“It’s a great opportunity for them to get some visibility and see where they stack up against other players,” said Delaney, “Everybody wants a shot, everybody wants to play college, that’s why they’re here. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be spending the money or putting the time and effort into it.”
“You never know, a diamond in the rough kid you haven’t had on the radar and they jump out at you in one moment and then you get a chance to see them later on in the weekend in the tournament setting. So it can be really productive to just catch up on kids that you maybe were unaware of,” said Duenow.
Seniors like Emma Christopherson who come from small towns like Fallbrook, California, use the showcase to demonstrate their talent for coaches who didn’t have her on their recruiting lists. She is taking full advantage of the spotlight that falls on her this weekend.
“I just think it’s a really good opportunity to just come out and work with a great group of coaches to kind of show off what I’ve learned throughout my entire career to hopefully get me to the next level,” said Christopherson, “I thought I did really well. Obviously, I’ve been traveling so I’m kind of tired, it’s been a long day. But I wouldn’t get down on myself about anything that happened, for sure.”
Christopherson came from a defunct club team in California. Despite coming into recruiting season late, she’s been happy with the experience of being recruited and is keeping her head up about the future.
“I changed clubs and didn’t even really know what the recruiting process was, but it’s been completely positive. I think a lot of girls kind of are stressed about it but I just see it as an opportunity that not everyone gets, so I’ve had a really good experience so far.”
By Marcos Aragon
Being the parent of an athlete can be a stressful but abundantly awarding experience. Helping athletes grow and develop is the job of both parents and coaches, but bringing the two groups together at the Triple Crown Volleyball National Invitational Tournament is important to help relieve the stress of recruiting these young athletes.
NCAA coaches of all levels came together Friday to speak to parents at the Parent Recruiting Session panel. The panel was designed to help teach parents about how they can get in touch with coaches when they are on campus, setting realistic goals with their athlete, and making the decision for where the prospective student athlete wants to attend school.
The tournament is where some college coaches will get an up-close look at recruits from around the country who may be interested in their program. The moderator of the panel was Patty Costlow, recruiting coordinator for Munciana Volleyball Club, who has conducted the panel for two years now. She wanted parents to walk away from the panel with a better understanding of how the recruiting process can be easier and less stressful than they might believe.
“These college coaches, assistant coaches, associate head coaches with the responsibility of recruiting, they’re the ones who recruit these athletes, and so I always have felt ... that they need to hear from the college coaches,” said Costlow, “They’re the ones communicating with their daughters, they’re the ones who understand the process on a day-to-day basis. They have all the knowledge that these parents and athletes need. I can get up here and tell you what we do at Munciana, but I think they have to hear from the people who actually do the recruiting on a day to day basis.”
Costlow sees the importance of the panel in allowing parents to interact with coaches and getting the feedback that they feel is going to help them and their athletes succeed.
“Parents and athletes really don’t get the feedback that they need to get from their clubs, from people assisting in the process. So I feel like that was part of the mantra here for me, to be able to help clubs and parents become more informed. I think the less informed parents are, the more stress that goes on their student athlete. And also, they just don’t understand the process can be really simple. It’s really all about communication and information.”
The keynote speaker of the panel was University of Florida associate head coach Shannon Wells, who has coached at different levels and also been a recruiting coordinator. Wells sees the importance of educating parents and athletes in the recruiting process so they can have “tangible ideas” for how to get their daughter noticed.
“I think it’s an opportunity to give back. This game has been unbelievable for me and I had an amazing college experience,” Wells said. “That’s why I got into coaching, I want to give student athletes that experience, too. A lot of recruiting is just luck and some of it is just not understanding the process. So if we can help them reach their dreams just by giving them a couple things to understand about the process, to me that’s what makes it worth it. Because it is literally the best experience they’ll ever have in their life.”
Wells added that there isn’t a dumb question that parents or athletes can ask because they as coaches have seen and heard it all. She noted that college coaches want to help them throughout the process and give parents guidance to be more successful, even if their school may not be the right choice for their daughter.
Mike McDonough, a parent in attendance of the panel, took extensive notes on what was said and how he can help his daughter in the recruiting process. McDonough admitted he doesn’t know much about college volleyball recruiting but understands a little but since he coaches football and lacrosse.
“I just wanted to learn more about it because this is only her second year and I don’t know anything about recruiting or anything like that, I just kinda wanted to get a feel for what it was about,” said McDonough, “I’ll get back to the motel and review some of the notes. Obviously there’s areas that were discussed today that can help her right away and some areas that we’re just gonna have to prepare more and get some more information.”
Costlow added that the panel was assembled to help manage the journey of recruiting and that understanding it can be so simple will relieve some of the tension.
“The athletes can take the pressure off themselves and the parents can take the pressure off the athlete to send emails, to make phone calls, to impress college coaches, that they have time,” said Costlow. “It’s more about two things, the student understands they have two priorities: being a student first and then an athlete that does more, and recruiting will take care of itself if they focus on those two areas. And the parents’ job is to support them, not to push them, not to do the process for them, but just to support them in their journey when they’re ready.”
By Kyle Koso
With 60 courts taking over the Salt Palace Convention Center, it’s helpful to imagine the Triple Crown Volleyball NIT as a city, bustling with people and activity.
As the twists and turns of the event play out, it’s rewarding to explore some of the off-ramps at the NIT, such as the Hospitality Zones and seminars, but one of the main attractions is clearly College Camp Friday, a one-of-a-kind setting for college coaches to work shoulder-to-shoulder with student-athletes hungry to learn more about the sport to which they already devote so much time, heart and soul.
On 12 courts at Salt Palace, Triple Crown welcomed 350-plus players with 24 colleges from all levels of the game. Rather than athletes needing to go campus-hopping to get in front of colleges, dozens of schools planted their flag at the NIT, making it easy for players to get a look at what would be expected at the next level.
“I really want to push myself; my goal this year is to be truly committed and show what I’ve got,” said Michelle Won, 15, a Newport Beach, CA native who plays for the A4 16’s team and attended the libero camp hosted by academic powers like Harvard and Northwestern. “My heart is set on one of these academic schools, and I wanted to show them exactly what I can put on the court. I really liked it; we incorporated a lot of skills, but at the same time we were having fun. It was competitive, people were working as hard as they can, and the coaches were really nice.”
“To get more insight, and to get a different look on how to approach things … my attacking and blocking, just getting a new look,” said Grace Hicks, 16, who plays for the Splash 17s out of Spokane, WA., and took part in one of the high-achiever hitting clinics “I definitely thought it was good. There was some slow work, but it was very technical then, and it was good to slow it down there. I think I rise to the occasion (playing in front of new faces), and I like it. This was all about the experience.”
The range and depth of the programs at College Camp Friday included national powerhouses like Stanford, USC, Minnesota, Washington and Florida, but the mix included terrific mid-major schools and small colleges with the upper D-I motivations to excel.
The entire session echoed something Triple Crown has done in youth fastpitch for years, but the idea had never been grafted onto a volleyball scene before.
“I noticed all the volleyball tournaments I went to, no one ever had this. We talked to elite schools, and they said they’d love to do a camp – it would be very interesting,” said TC NIT director Sean Hardy. “It started with four college coaches I had good relationships with, and they told more …. Patty (Costlow) with Munciana said she’d help and wanted to see what it could become. As late as yesterday, I had 10 more colleges wanting to get involved.
“The concept in volleyball had never been done. There are some now who will probably start. This has been unbelievable – I was shocked, and we had to add camps because some filled up so fast. We added Utah and West Virginia just a bit ago … I can’t complain.”
The depth of the coaching insight played out on all courts – there was West Virginia head coach Reed Sunahara leading a drill, with Munciana club director and 18s coach Mike Lingenfelter right there to amplify a thought or concept. Coaches would urge the girls to get uncomfortable, to test their limits, while always there to encourage effort and determination.
“They were intent and thirsty to learn. Even though it was two hours, they made it very enjoyable – they had a good time, and it was an impressive group of athletes,” said Harvard head coach Jennifer Weiss. “Triple Crown is running this event very well. It is important to include the college coaches, and for us to be able to interact with the girls, it’s just great for them. I think Sean’s doing a wonderful job.”
“This was a unique opportunity for our school and program to be in this atmosphere. Have some eye-to-eye contact, be coaching in your camp and not just running it,” said Rhode Island head coach Steve Santonastaso. “You get into the gears of it here. You know, they may have wondered, do I belong here, will I mess it up for everybody … you give them a sense of security, and once you get them over that hurdle, everything is great.
“The kids to do this fast, only two hours … they had to create a relaxed atmosphere. Our players were great – they were energetic, and once they understood the drills and we whacked a couple balls at them, the confidence level would start to rise and you see more of the smiles and personalities. The eye contact was great.”
The sixth edition of the Triple Crown Volleyball NIT takes over nearly every square inch of the Salt Palace Convention Center, with match action running from Feb. 17-19 as more than 435 teams descend on Salt Lake City from around the nation.
Built through conversation, debate and planning with the leading voices in club and college volleyball, the TC NIT features age groups from 14 Open to 18 Open and has become one of the most intriguing events on the calendar. The unique format pits highly ranked teams against each other on Day 1, with an emphasis on a geographical mix that fans won’t see again until the USA and JVA championships later in the year.
On the day before the tournament, Friday, Feb. 16, Triple Crown will hold a variety of College Camps, with top-flight NCAA programs around the country bringing staff in to work with athletes aspiring to improve. More than 350 youth will take part; there’s also an Unsigned Player Workout and recruiting seminars for parents presented by experts in the club/college recruiting journey.
Fans will be able to enjoy action on 60 courts; multiple vendors will be on hand, along with tournament merchandise, concessions and a “Hospitality Zone” to get away from the whistles, featuring WiFi, charging stations, TVs, tables, chairs and activities for kids and adults.
Three championship matches (14 Open, 16 Open, 18 Open) will be broadcast on ESPN3 on Monday, Feb. 19 beginning at 10 a.m. MT. The TC NIT has also arranged to have a free livestream on 40 courts, on all three days of match play.
“We had a feeling the event had room to grow; in 2018 we were able to secure more space at the convention center, and we’ve more than doubled the number of teams coming to Salt Lake City,” said TC NIT event director Sean Hardy. “This President’s Day Weekend event is where you can truly appreciate the depth and skill level of the nation’s strongest clubs and teams.”