Tournament officials have combed through the results from the nearly 580 teams that competed Feb. 16-18 at the Triple Crown NIT and have declared the winner of the 2019 Top Club Award – Texas Advantage.
To be eligible for the award, a club must have entered a team in at least three age divisions (12s through 18s), and points were tabulated from the top three finishes of each club. Here is the breakdown for the Top 10:
1. Texas Advantage (240 points) – The TC NIT Club Champion for the second time in three years; winners of the 14 Elite, runner-up at 17 Elite and sixth place at 18 Elite.
2. Dynasty (220 points) – The Kansas City, KS program dominated at the younger age groups; winners at 13 Elite, fifth place in both 12 and 15 Elite.
3. Asics KIVA (210 points) – One of the nation’s powerhouse clubs out of Louisville; strong work in placing third at 18 Elite, fourth at 14 Elite and fifth at 13 Elite.
4. Nebraska Premier (200 points) – Since 2018, a welcomed addition to the competitive level of the TC NIT; this year they won the 12 Elite and 15 Elite titles.
5. A5 Mizuno (170 points) – Longtime presence in the TC NIT; the suburban Atlanta program placed second at 16 Elite and third at 15 Elite.
T6. Legacy (160 points) – Always a factor at the TC NIT, the Rochester (MI) club won the title at 18 Elite (the team is now 36-1 this year) and placed fifth at 17 Elite.
T6. MAVS (160 points) – Based in nearby Olathe, KS, the MAVS brought serious punch to the younger age groups in 2019, placing third at both 12 Elite and 13 Elite.
8. MadFrog (150 points) – The second Texas program to appear on this list, MadFrog (Plano) was a factor throughout, placing second at 13 Elite and fifth at 15 elite.
9. Top Select (140 points) – Based out of Orlando, Top Select opened a lot of eyes with a terrific win at 17 Elite, and then added a seventh-place finish at 18 Elite.
10. Tstreet (130 points) – The only California squad on the list, Tstreet (Irvine) won an impressive title at 16 Elite, and also muscled up at 13 Elite, placing eighth.
For full club results - CLICK HERE
Same players, same coaches, same intentions – different results.
The Dynasty Black 13u volleyball squad certainly labored to get off to the start it might have envisioned at the Triple Crown NIT, as the team dropped three pool play matches and didn’t display the consistency required to make a dent at a top-scale championship.
But the deep, determined nature of the Dynasty team (based in Kansas City, KS) and its ability to shake off any negativity from early struggles proved most relevant, as Dynasty rumbled through bracket play and claimed the 13 Elite title with a well-earned 25-10, 18-25, 16-14 victory over MadFrog Green on Monday at the MAVS complex. MadFrog had taken down Dynasty without much drama in pool play, but the rematch was a different tale as Dynasty got a handle on their game when it mattered most.
“Triple Crown was like two different tournaments for us. We played really well against Long Beach in pool play and really well against Kiva, Mavs, and Madfrogs in bracket play,” said Dynasty coach Bryon Larson. “We played poorly in the other four matches. We didn't serve and pass well for large stretches in pool play. We served really tough and passed with precision and purpose in the bracket matches. The girls came into bracket play with the hunger and grit that champions play with. We got great swings out of system and kept pressure on our opponents. It was fun to see the girls flip a switch and play dominant volleyball.”
In the championship match, Dynasty took what looked like to be a dominant lead at 12-7, only to see MadFrog score the next five points to tie it up.
“They are a great team that can impose their will on anyone at a given time. We gutted it out and put the last few points away -- the match was a dogfight the entire time,” Larson said.
Although Dynasty needed time to find its game at the start of the tournament, Larson felt the format of the event (where teams play top-flight competition right out of the gate) was ultimately a benefit.
“The format of the Power Pools transitioning into bracket play is the best thing going. We were able to play elite open level teams for seven of our eight matches,” he said. “We got battle tested and made some coaching and lineup adjustments. The team overcame adversity and played inspired for the bracket matches. Triple Crown gave us the feel of Day 3 and 4 at Nationals for three straight days."
While there were plenty of big plays by the Nebraska Premier 12 Gold roster in Monday’s championship match of the Triple Crown NIT 12 Elite, a strong argument can be made that the critical moments came earlier in the semifinals.
The Nebraska Premier squad fell behind by 10 points at the start of that semi against MAVS, but somehow figured out a path back to contention. After securing a 25-23, 25-17 victory there, the 12 Gold had their confidence and faith fully restored before posting a 25-13, 25-21 win over Munciana Peppers at the MAVS facility in Olathe, KS.
“We had to regain our poise in the noise,” said 12 Gold coach John Castle. “We talked about what we wanted to do, but it’s volleyball and they are 12 years old … all I can say is everybody had a role in the comeback. We had amazing sideline energy, and that helped us get going in the right direction. After that, we knew we were fortunate to have the opportunity to play in the final.”
The championship turned out to be a rematch from earlier in the tournament, when Munciana authored a 22-25, 25-17, 15-9 victory. The 12 Gold could have been sobered by that early loss, but Castle said his young squad ended up with exactly the right attitude.
“We took that loss at the time as, let’s put ourselves in a position to get a chance at a rematch,” he said. “And that meant, focusing on the things that got us there – having fun, connecting with each other on the court and taking care of our side of the net. Really, that loss was a good thing, because it made us refocus on what makes us successful.
With Castle and coach Krysta Peers, the 12 Gold stood in a circle after their finals victory, shared their appreciation for each other and soaked in the first-ever 12 Elite title awarded at the TC NIT.
“We congratulated Munciana on a great tournament and how they helped us get better,” Castle added. “And when that final ball dropped, it was an awesome feeling.”
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – When the Nebraska Premier volleyball program joined the fray at the Triple Crown NIT in 2018, you could tell it wouldn’t take too long for the club to make an impact on Championship Day.
Nebraska Premier delivered on the promise Monday, with the 12 Gold team taking first place thanks to a 25-13, 25-21 victory over Munciana and the 15 Gold muscling up for a 27-25, 25-20 win over Central Iowa Select.
15 Elite head coach Shannon Smolinksi said her squad thrived in an extremely difficult pool of competition by embracing and excelling in whatever role was required. The team went 8-1 overall, including four three-set victories.
“Their passion, their grit, their desire to not only compete at the highest level but to win, it’s special to watch,” Smolinksi said. “They trusted themselves and trusted their training.”
Nebraska Premier fell behind 6-0 to CIS in the first set, but figured out a path while slowly working on the comeback. In the second set, Nebraska Premier was sturdy and stable right out of the gate.
“They knew how the play was going to look, so that flowed into our offense, and we were able to have our offense go a little bit faster and attack with the speed we typically use,” Smolinksi added. “We were proud of their adjustments, to be able to take risks and go for it.”
The 13 Elite title was claimed by Dynasty VBC, based in Kansas City, KS. They slipped past MadFrog (TX) 25-20, 18-25, 16-14. Dynasty was just 1-3 in its first four matches, then turned around to win four straight.
By Kyle Koso
KANSAS CITY, Mo -- KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Jessica Mruzik might have been hard to find for a stretch Monday, but rest assured, she had no interest in hiding at the Kansas City Convention Center.
The powerful hitter for the Legacy Elite (Michigan) vaulted her team off to a great start, hung back in the shadows, then delivered some killer blows as Legacy claimed a 25-21, 16-25, 15-12 victory over Texas Image to win the 18 Elite championship at the Triple Crown NIT. In a contest where the teams traded serious shots from powerful offensive sequences, the match was tied as late as 9-all in the third set.
Paige Briggs (heading to Western Kentucky for college volleyball) came through with a kill and a difficult dig, which was converted into another point on a swing by Allyson Severance (Miami-Ohio). Mruzik, who still has until 2020 before heading to Michigan, converted to make it 14-12, then served an ace for match point, a nice counterpoint to the second set that saw her play more in the background.
“When I’m struggling, I think of the most effective way I can help my team if I’m not playing one part of my game as efficiently as I’d like,” said Mruzik, whose flying kills from the back row provided many highlights in the first set. “I try to help my team out in other ways; if I’m not hitting well, I want to step up my passing.
“The (last serve) … that was great. I really wanted to get that ace.”
Texas Image had a few too many service errors and other mistakes to survive Set 1, but the team came at Legacy in waves in Set 2, with the kills from Azhani Tealer (Kentucky) reverberating through the hall. Molly Phillips (Texas) and Sophia Miller (Arkansas State) also broke loose offensively as Texas Image rumbled ahead in a set that was once as close as 11-10.
Legacy needed to make some adjustments before the third set, and they seemed to work as the Michigan squad took an 8-4 lead. Texas Image tied it at 8-all as Legacy settled for tipping the ball over the net, but that last push fueled by Mruzik and Briggs did the job.
“Paige does things you don’t expect – at 5-foot-10, she touches 10-3, so she can be deceiving. What she did in the third set, she’s such a great kid and a great player,” said Legacy coach Ricky Cottrill. “I flipped Jess and Jessica Robinson to start the third set to get a bigger block on (Tealer), and we got some momentum early. Paige did what she needed at the end.
“For (Mruzik), she takes a lot of swings, and I think she was running out of steam. I get after Jess; she’s one of those kids you can yell at, and she’ll respond. It’s a delight to be able to coach her.”
Robinson (Michigan) had important kills sprinkled throughout the match, including one that put Legacy up 21-18 in Set 1 and 13-11 in the third set.
“After Game 2, we said we knew we were the better team, and that was sloppy play by us. We had to focus on our jobs, not to do too much more or less,” Robinson said. “Play clean, support each other, and we’re not going to let anything hit the ground without, like, eight people diving for it.
“It feels amazing (pouring in points). Obviously the kills feel awesome, then you turn around to your teammates, and they are all screaming in your face, you hold your hands up. It’s great to feel the momentum, and you know your kill gets everyone ready to go.”
Legacy was 8-1 overall at the TC NIT.
By Adam Burns
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For about a half hour on Monday afternoon, TStreet and A5 Mizuno went toe-to-toe in the 16 Elite championship game of the Triple Crown NIT.
The two sides traded punches in an intense first set, just as they did in pool play just two days prior. And with a tournament crown at stake, the intensity was certainly high.
TStreet ultimately edged A5 Mizono 29-27 in the first set to put the California-based squad in the driver’s seat.
But what happened next may have come as a surprise to the fans gathered around Court 15 inside the Kansas City Convention Center.
TStreet turned on the burners in the second set as it sped past A5 Mizuno to claim a straight-set victory (29-27, 25-14) and an NIT championship. It’s the club’s second 16s title.
“This is a huge win for the club,” TStreet coach Mike Murphy said. “I’m so proud of the girls. It’s massive. We got the gold back in 2012 when this first started.”
The victory capped an 8-1 weekend, including a pool play victory over A5 Mizuno (32-30, 26-24) on Saturday. Texas Advantage handed TStreet’s lone loss (26-24, 25-15) in a pool play opener.
A5 Mizuno finished the weekend with a 7-2 record and as tournament runner-ups.
“We weren’t satisfied, but the first set was a battle,” A5 Mizuno coach Gabe Aramian said. “It was very close, similar to how we played them earlier in the tournament. We had multiple opportunities to close out the set; we just couldn’t perform when it mattered.”
Much like TStreet’s pool play win over A5 Mizuno, the first set of the title match was an action-packed battle. TStreet jumped out to a 5-1 lead before A5 Mizuno took its first lead at 10-9 following a 5-0 run. Thirteen ties followed during the remainder of the set.
A5 Mizuno’s Jacque Boney caught fire late with five kills and a pair of blocks. But TStreet’s balanced attack of Macy Wilder, Grace Chillingworth, Elyse Stowell, Rachel Fairbanks and Brianne Albright all contributed kills down the stretch to seal the set No. 1 win.
“The first win gave us more energy and we came out really on fire in the second set,” TStreet outside hitter Jessica Smith said. “We had a lot of energy and our blocking really pulled through. It lifted us up and kept us going.”
TStreet kept it rolling in the second set as it jumped out to a 5-1 lead. A5 Mizuno cut the lead to 5-3, but TStreet scored three straight and eventually used a crucial 6-1 stretch to take a 15-7 lead.
A5 Mizuno made one final push with a 5-0 run to trim the lead to 19-13 to force a TStreet timeout.
TStreet proceeded to finish the contest with a game-sealing 6-1 run, giving the program another title to its trophy case.
“It’s huge, especially because it’s the first tournament of the year,” said Smith, a UCLA beach commit. “Starting off strong really gives us a strong starting point for the year.”
By Matt Antonic
The ball landed out of play, and Club Top Select let out a collective cheer. The players mobbed one another on their side of the court, while parents celebrated in the stands. Top Select had completed its comeback, defeating Texas Advantage on Monday to win the championship in the Triple Crown NIT 17 Elite division.
It was a combination of championship joy and sweet revenge, as Top Select coach Blake Rawlins put it. TAV had beaten Top Select on Saturday, but Select made the most out of the opportunity in the rematch.
“We practice so much and it all pays off, in the end,” said Top Select’s Cierra Jenkins. “We’ve been working very technically to minimize our errors, and that really helped us win this game.”
Against what he called “probably the best team in the country,” Rawlins’ squad made a few too many errors in a 25-22 loss in the first set, and TAV was able to control the run of play. His club tightened the screws, however, and managed to throw TAV off of its game.
“Our serving was better, and we knocked them out of system a little bit,” Rawlins said. “We pass well, so we have to be in system and run our fast tempo and create some one-on-ones. If we’re not passing well, it’s probably a different outcome there, because of how big and physical they are.”
Superior serving and passing helped Top Select go on an exciting 4-0 run in the second set to go up 16-12, prompting a TAV timeout and a noise crescendo from excited parents. Top Select took the set 25-22.
“We talked about keeping our serves consistent so that we don’t give them free points,” Taylor Head said. “I think we just stayed in tune with each other.”
Staying in tune proved to be crucial as the third set wound down. TAV had pulled even at 14-all after trailing by two, prompting a final timeout to set up for the match point. Top Select’s leadership skills shined bright, and the team came out of the huddle to win the final two points and the tournament championship.
Top Select’s parent section certainly appreciated the fight, and the mood on Select’s side of the court was a festive one. The Florida-based club departed the Kansas City Convention Center, presumably to enjoy the win while escaping the frigid Midwester weather, reveling in pulling off a win over a team that had won multiple TC NIT 17 Elite championships in previous years.
By Adam Burns
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The chants echoed from inside the vast Kansas City Convention Center.
“TAV! TAV! TAV!” the Texas Advantage fan base cried at 11:25 a.m. on Monday. That moment proved to be the midway point of Texas Advantage's triumph ... with some revenge along the way, too.
Texas Advantage registered a straight-set victory (25-23, 25-23) over Wave to claim the program’s third Triple Crown Sports 14 Elite NIT championship in the last four years.
To spice the title win, the Dallas-based team earned revenge over Wave, who handed Texas Advantage its lone loss of the tournament in three sets on Saturday.
“It’s really special because we’ve worked hard and we lost to Wave on Saturday, so it was really good to get that sweet revenge,” Texas Advantage outside hitter Lauren Ingram said. “The last set was really fun because it was tight and it was really intense with so many people and supporters.”
About that support. Both squads had large contingents surrounding Court 15, to go along with other teams that stuck around to catch the top two teams in the 14s Elite division.
“It was kind of revenge for us,” Texas Advantage coach Joe Jablonski said, “but most importantly we had to figure out how to sustain the energy after a three-day tournament. That’s hard to do sometimes.”
His players delivered, holding off Wave in two back-and-forth sets that gave the crowd everything it could handle.
“The energy was so intense and everyone was screaming and yelling,” Ingram said.
Texas Advantage set the tone early, jumping out to a 4-1 start. Wave, however, responded by knotting the score at 5-all. Texas Advantage regained the lead, one that it didn’t relinquish the rest of the way.
From that point, Texas Advantage led by as many as five points and allowed Wave to get within one point twice. Wave trailed 23-21 before Texas Advantage’s Kyndal Stowers slammed home two of her six kills, the final one sealing the first set.
In set No. 2, Wave used a 5-0 run to take a 12-7 lead, but Texas Advantage answered with a 6-0 stretch to regain the lead at 13-12, forcing a Wave timeout.
Eight ties ensued, with the last coming at 22-22, before Emily Simmons registered a kill and Miller McDonald recorded an ace to help Texas Advantage pull out the two-point victory.
“We came to play and beat them in three in pool,” Wave coach Juliana Evans said. “So it was awesome the way it came down to them in the (finals). The last match was a game of more details. We played the same level of volleyball, very technical and scrappy. But I think the nerves got the best in the end that decided the score. It was fun.”
As for Texas Advantage, Jablonski acknowledged that the more his team wins championships such as this one, the target will only get bigger.
“It puts us on the pedestal a little bit and puts an ‘X’ on our back,” Jablonski said. “They won the 13 open USA Volleyball last year, so we’ve had that before. Now (the NIT championship) says that we can compete with the best in the country before we get to Indianapolis in June.”
By Kyle Koso
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – When a lot of hard work is undone by just a couple quirky mistakes, it’s enough to spin a volleyball team into a funk and out of a match.
The Central Iowa Select 15 Elite had no reason to predict their troubles late in Game 2 on Sunday against Skyline Royal – CIS had pocketed four matches already at the Triple Crown NIT and had won Game 1, but Skyline took advantage when CIS let a ball drop, enough of an edge for the Texas program to claim the game.
CIS worked it out in the huddle, and went to work in Game 3, pushing through to a 26-24, 22-25, 15-10 victory to move to the Elite Division quarterfinals. They’ll face OTVA or Dynasty Black on Monday at the KC Convention Center.
“That was very unlike us to have that happen. We talked about, if you’re in a position to play the ball, do it, instead of assuming someone else will. You have to communicate,” said CIS coach Tina Carter. “I thought our kids did a great job of identifying their hitters. Skyline is very deep, and we didn’t know who’d they start or play. We talked about defending lefties; our team was scrappier, and we had better ball control and defense. That’s saying a lot against (Skyline).”
“I felt we realized it’s important to play like a team and not be selfish,” said Hayden Kubik, who rang up multiple noisy kill shots and had a key block late in Game 3 to give CIS a 14-10 lead. “Being a team, work hard together and don’t just focus on yourself.”
In Game 1, CIS spread the work around, with Dasha Svitashev coming through with three big kills in the late stages; Kubik and Chloe Largent combined on a block to finish off game point. CIS also had positive moments in Game 2, using a 8-1 run to take an 11-10 lead and at least put itself in a good spot before those aforementioned mistakes allowed Skyline to push ahead.
Defensively, Cali Coppola always seemed to be in the right position, and she also pounded home a few shots, helping the offense diversify when Kubik didn’t get the ball.
“I felt like we came together, everyone would cheer for each other, and if we made a mistake, we’d shake it off and just go to the next ball,” Coppola said. “The nerves just get me more hyped up and excited to play with my friends, my teammates, who are like my family.”
Skyline would have moments when they focused on muzzling Kubik, and at times it was very effective – little stretches gave the appearance CIS was struggling to identify a Plan B. Kubik showed an ability to adapt with a few clever tip shots, and her hammering swing was impossible to stop over the long haul.
“The ‘Hammer’ is very human, a young 14-year-old. We are working on ways for her to be more efficient,” Carter said. “Have a plan based on where the ball is at, and it’s a lot of information. But you can see moments where she is figuring it out. When you are repeating to a hitter, it can be hard for them to get into position and know what to do.”
“You can’t shut down; you have to focus on the team,” Kubik said. “And when I had the feeling I needed to tip, I just followed my instincts.”
By Matt Antonic
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The match between the Wildcat Juniors and Club A4 had already been an adrenaline-filled affair, so of course the third set came down to the wire.
Trailing 15-14 and a point away from a loss, an A4 hit landed on the line, or so the players thought. But the match official called it out. Game over, launching a victory celebration for the Wildcat Juniors and a protest from A4.
After falling in the first set, the Wildcat Juniors had successfully completed their comeback, winning in three sets (23-25, 25-17, 16-14). The win catapulted them atop the standings of Pool A in the 18 Club division of the Triple Crown NIT.
“That’ll be a good memory,” said a victorious Katie Carmichael.
The Sunday round of the tournament will indeed be a good memory for everyone on the Illinois-based Wildcat Juniors. They stormed through Pool A, winning all three of their matches, losing just two total sets in the process. It was Club A4 that provided the stiffest competition of the day.
The weekend as a whole has been an incredible experience for the team, which will return to the court tomorrow at noon.
“I think that we have gone through enough adversity this weekend that we’re learning to just be patient and wait for our time to score and go from there,” Wildcat Juniors coach Cassie Rose said. “I think it’s something, you go 3-0 on the day and win your pool that’s a huge confidence booster heading into the last day.”
After dominating the second set, the Wildcat Juniors and A4 engaged in a thriller of a final set. The Wildcat Juniors turned a 13-12 deficit into a 15-14 lead, prompting a timeout before the match point. Rose’s instructions in the huddle were simple.
“I told the team just to be patient, wait for our time and get our serve in and defend around the net,” Rose said.
Despite trailing near the end of the match, the Wildcat Juniors never lost their composure. In fact, they were as motivated as they had been during the whole match.
“We try in between points to really stay calm, not get too worked up and just stay aggressive and not be scared to make mistakes,” Rose said.
Having won six out of the eight sets they played on the day, the Wildcat Juniors are oozing with confidence. They will have their chance to win hardware in the championship rounds on Monday.
“We’re really confident that we’re going to win out tomorrow,” Carmichael said. “We know what we can do, and we proved it today.”
By Matt Antonic
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Milwaukee Sting coach Dave Bayer acknowledged that his squad had started this season a bit slower than he would have liked. But after a scintillating Saturday afternoon victory against Club Excel, the Sting are off and running at the Triple Crown NIT.
Bayer’s club won in straight sets (25-14), (25-23), and controlled play for large stretches of the match. With the win, the Sting advance to the 16 Elite quarterfinals.
“We grew up a little bit today,” Bayer said. “We didn’t freak out. That’s kind of been our MO early in the season, and they handled themselves extremely well today. I’m pretty proud of them.”
The Milwaukee-based Sting won the first set in one of the day’s more lopsided scores, 25-14. The team’s attacking prowess simply overwhelmed Excel. “The energy was really good and that helped us a lot,” said Katie Winkler. “When we have a lot of energy we play really well. We played a lot more confident and cool today.”
Winkler thought that the team’s focus on mental preparation was helpful in the second set, which featured a much more determined and organized Excel side. “We’ve worked a lot on our mental side of the game. Like picking each other up and moving on, and it definitely showed here today,” he said.
The Excel rallied, but the Sting came out on top in the second set, 25-23.
“We keep getting better and better every time we get in the gym,” Bayer said. “This has been a great tournament, great event for us, always seeing the best competition every time we take the floor here.”
The Triple Crown NIT, featuring nearly 600 teams, has brought out the competitive spirit in the thousands of players, coaches and club administrators that have descended on Kansas City. Monday’s final rounds are a treat to be a part of, Bayer said, but was careful to note that the biggest things the Sting will take away from the weekend are improvement and confidence.
“We’re not even worried about the end result of these matches,” he said. "We’re just trying to get better every time we take the floor, whether it’s here at Triple Crown, or when we get back in the gym Tuesday for practice.
That isn’t to say that his club doesn’t have their eyes on the prize. The Sting will face Club Elevation on Monday.
“A win like this is going to really help us tomorrow going into the last eight teams,” Morgan Yenter said. “We know our main goal is the championship.”
By Adam Burns
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kokoro 18s are back on the right track.
After a 1-2 opening day, the Minnesota-based team bounced back with a three-win Sunday in the club division of the Triple Crown Sports NIT inside the Kansas City Convention Center.
Kokoro, of St. Paul, capped the perfect Sunday with a straight-set victory (25-22, 25-20) over Evansville United. Kokoro also beat TStreet-Taylor (19-25, 25-23, 15-13) and Club V (25-16, 25-21).
“It’s exciting for us,” Kokoro coach Sam Sullivan said. “We didn’t have the day that we wanted on the first day.”
The turnaround and victory against Evansville United puts Kokoro into the club division championship round, which starts Monday.
“To turn things around today and earn a spot in the (club) championship bracket is exciting,” Sullivan said. “It gives us an opportunity for us to end the tournament on a high note.”
Kokoro outside hitter Abby Widiker indicated that her team overcame more than just a 1-2 start to the tournament.
“It’s been really nice especially with losing our outside who came down with the flu last night,” Widiker said. “For everyone to adjust into new roles, not be afraid and aggressive, was really good. We brought a lot of energy and we were really aggressive.”
Widiker, a Missouri Science & Technology commit, registered a game-high 10 kills.
“They definitely put me in a great position with some nice balls, giving me a lot of opportunities,” Widiker said of her teammates. “The line was open and they pushed it far nice.”
The first set between Kokoro and Evansville saw 11 ties and eight lead changes. Kokoro put together a 5-0 run to pull away from an 18-all deadlock, which led them to the three-point win.
Evansville kept the second set close until it trailed by six at 23-17. The Indiana-based squad then scored three straight before Widiker sealed the deal with a match-clinching kill.
Now, with a rough opening day in the rear-view mirror, Kokoro has its sights on championship Monday.
“It gave us a little bit of confidence going into the last day,” Sullivan said. “We have some good momentum now and we’re getting into a rhythm.”
By Adam Burns
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There may be a rivalry brewing between the TK Legends and K2 Adidas 18-year-old elite squads.
Two weeks after falling to K2 in straight sets, the Legends 18s flipped the script on K2 with a come-from-behind 2-1 (22-25, 25-22, 15-12) victory in the Triple Crown Sports NIT on Sunday afternoon inside the Kansas City Convention Center.
With the win, TK Legends, of Georgia, advanced to the quarterfinal round.
“It feels great,” TK Legends outside hitter Caitlin O’Farrell said. “They beat us in their own tournament in the finals. So coming back and beating them was really refreshing.”
TK Legends coach Suzanne Fitzgerald was just as pleased.
“They've struggled with that all season; they get in a hole and don’t know how to get it out of it,” she said. “There (are) veterans on this team and newcomers as well, so we’re still learning how to get out of those moments. To do it in that situation, a must-win situation, that’s the best feeling.”
In the first set, K2 Adidas, of Tennessee, pulled away from 18-18 to finish on a 7-4 run.
“It’s a typical match that we like to play in the first set; we got them out of sorts and made them a little bit one-dimensional,” K2 Adidas coach Jason Hames said.
TK Legends fell into a 10-5 hole in the second set, but they worked out of the deficit with an 8-1 run to take a 13-11 lead. The rest of the second set saw eight ties and six lead changes. But it was the strong attack of O’Farrell, Riley Spurlin and Jordan Rush, who respectively put away kills for the final three of four points to force a third set.
“The second set was a close one and then they made the plays at the end to win it,” Hames said. “You got to put good teams away. We had an opportunity there to put away a very good team, and we just didn’t do that.”
O’Farrell, an Ohio commit who finished with 10 kills, had three kills and Gabby Gonzalez put away two of her game-high 15 kills in the final set. TK Legends used a 5-1 run to take command with a 12-8 lead.
K2 Adidas cut the lead to two twice, the last at 14-12 just before O’Farrell put away the game with her final kill.
“It was a great team effort,” O’Farrell said. “We got down, but we fought back and started off strong in the second set and then come back in the third set with all of our intensity and overpower them.”
By Matt Antonic
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- When Mintonette took the court against Coast, it found itself undersized, as it usually is.
Coast took advantage in the first set, controlling the pace with superior length and organization. Then Mintonette remembered why it was here at the Triple Crown NIT, with its 88-8 record last season and phenomenal technical ability.
Mintonette (Ohio) dominated the final two sets, defeating Coast (CA) on Saturday and proving why it was one of the tournament favorites, 19-25, 25-21, 15-10.
While Mintonette would eventually get rolling, it was Coast who came out looking like the better team, playing with a higher level of energy as it jumped to what looked like an easy six-point win in the first set.
“Our energy was definitely different in the second and third sets than it was in the first,” said Mintonette’s Emily Londot. “We came out kind of slow.”
A strong start to the second set provided the necessary energy boost, and Mintonette coach Max Murphy said that a high level of energy and strong fundamentals were necessary to combat the size gap. Coast was no longer able to use its size to dominate, and trailed for most of the match.
“We talked about our first contact, our first contact in the first set was not very good,” Murphy said. “We’re an undersized team at this level, and if our first contact is not there we’re gonna get pushed around and beat up.”
Mintonette asserted itself in the third set, and managed to inflict frustration on Coast players and coaches. With the set tied at four, Mintonette managed to come out on top of the longest rally of the day, prompting parents and players on the bench to fly out of their seats. Mintonette held a 5-4 lead and would not surrender it the rest of the way, winning the third set 15-10.
“I think our kids, at least for this team, their identity is just to be resilient,” Murphy said. “We went 88-8 last year, and we get punched in the mouth a lot on the first set. The resiliency of our kids and just the calm nature of how they control their emotions, a lot of it is just to kind of pick away and start to believe and then pull the match out.”
There was plenty of excitement among the Mintonette parents, and the players were just as enthused, but were remarkably cool as they gathered in their post-game huddle. As one of the tournament favorites, Stodot said it was important to perform at a high level but also to remain composed. Once they are out on the court and communicating, the fun begins.
“We know we are good when we are working together and talking and having fun,” Our team does really well when we have fun,” Stodot said.
“This team was picked to win the tournament,” Murphy added, “so we’re happy to get that past us and now it's on to the next one.”
By Kyle Koso
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – With a deep roster of springy, strong and athletic volleyball players, the Rockwood Thunder 15 Elite is a lot to handle when unleashing its full powers.
That doesn’t mean the production is easy to perform, and in fact the Thunder were quite off-script in their match Saturday against Asics KIVA Red at the Triple Crown NIT. Already down a game, the Thunder whiffed on a simple pass, then got their wires crossed on a play where the ball fell unaccompanied to the floor, making it 11-all and forcing coach Chris Reid to call a timeout.
Emotions seemed a bit agitated, but the Thunder worked it out and won their first Power Pool match at the event, 20-25, 25-19, 15-12 – even the end was a strain, as they had a 14-7 lead in Game 3 that nearly went the other way.
“It’s about trusting the work you’ve put in the gym. There’s stuff that happens on the floor, and if you bring that into what you’re trying to do, it’s just a big distraction,” Reid said. “We’ve done so many reps on what we are trying to run … trust our stuff, the percentages are going to work out, and we have to let the craziness go.
“Now, communication is something we can control. Ambiguity is not going to work for us, so we have to do our jobs, and see what happens.”
The match was dogged by service errors on both sides, and KIVA had success spreading the opportunities around as Oliva Fish and Tess Schrenger were notably strong in finishing off kills. But there were flashes when Rockwood began to announce its intentions, as Vanessa Polk, Maddie Sell and Madison Scheer used their length and savvy to take over at net on defense, especially.
Polk used a wisely placed tip to make it 24-19 in Game 2, and the Thunder won the next point off an error. In Game 3, Rockwood never trailed, although KIVA made that late push.
“I think it was just jitters; we are all super pumped to be here. That was our first match, and we had to settle ourselves after that first game,” Polk said. “It was stressful for all of us, but we knew in the end we would pull and play our game. We’d trust each other to do their jobs.”
“We all stayed positive, and we had confidence in each other. We were able to come back from those communication problems,” Scheer said. “We were nervous, but so excited.”
In an event designed to bring the best programs together and compete against each other from the very start of the schedule, Rockwood has the look of a team that can stand out in the vast Kansas City Convention Center.
“They’re an exceptionally nice and kind group to each other. It builds the trust, and we all know we are pulling the same direction, and our sisters have our backs,” Reid added. “Whatever is happening, let it go … we come back to our base, then push. That’s what makes us special. Hey, pounding the ball inside the 3-meter line, I love that, too. What’s special is when we win the ugliest of ugly plays, because we’ve repeated that rep a hundred times before.”
By Adam Burns
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Perfection is a rare commodity at the Triple Crown NIT, and that’s exactly why Top Select 17s is perfectly OK with its straight-set opening victory over Skyline Royal on Saturday afternoon.
“It’s good to win in two, you know?” Top Select coach Blake Rawlins said after his squad earned the 25-19, 25-22 victory in Power Pool A play inside the Kansas City Convention Center.
Indeed it is, said Top Select outside hitter Rebekah Rath.
“It was really important to set the tone for the tournament and it’s our first real big tournament as a team, so it was really good to get started on a good note,” said Rath, a Maryland commit who finished with a match-high seven kills.
After Top Select and Skyline managed eight ties in the first set, Top Select, an Orlando-based team, used a game-changing 7-1 run to take a 19-13 lead. Top Select rode that momentum for an eventual six-point win in the opener.
Skyline, meanwhile, was the aggressor in the second set. The Dallas-based squad scored the first three points of the set and led by as much as much as five before Top Select came roaring back.
Top Select knotted the score at 19-all and twice more before a kill from Sydney Conley and two kills from Rath sealed the deal.
“It says that we never give up,” Rath said of her team fighting back from down five points. “When we get down we try really hard to stay steady and not get too down or hard on ourselves.”
“I liked our resolve there in the second set,” he said. “We were down five points and we worked our way back into it and ended up winning by three. We found a way to win and we just kept fighting.”
Skyline will chalk up this one as experience.
“This is our first year here and we came here for that specific reason, because it’s great competition from Day 1,” Skyline coach Ashley Williams said. “We need that to get ready for qualifying season.
“That wasn’t our best hitting match and I know we can do it better. Playing against a team like that we have to be more selective.”
Reagan Rutherford led Skyline in kills (4), assists (10) and digs (8).
“She did a good job setting up for the block so our defense knew where to go," Williams said. "We could’ve set her more often if we were more in system, but she did a good job with her approach and reading the attack.”
Top Select’s Audrey Douglas shared the title of kills leader with Rath, as she also had seven kills. Cierra Jenkins, a Brown University commit, dished out 24 assists, while Elli McKissock recorded nine digs.
By Adam Burns
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Arizona Storm 16s learned a valuable lesson on the first day of the Triple Crown Sports NIT.
“These power pools are murderers row,” Phil Church said after his squad suffered a 2-0 defeat to A5 Mizuno (26-24, 28-26) on Saturday morning on Court 11 inside the Kansas City Convention Center.
Thanks to a fierce middle attack, A5 Mizuno held off a pair of comebacks from the Storm in an intriguing Power Pool A matchup featuring two squads that earned wins in their opening matches.
“Anyone can beat you and every match is tough,” Church said. “That’s why we come here, to get great reps and see where we’re at. This is a great barometer for us.”
Despite the two-set loss, the Storm rallied from seven-point deficits in both games. They tied it at 22-22 in the opener and had the Game 2 at game point at 24-23 before A5 Mizuno closed it out down the stretch.
“They had a very strong middle and they ran middle a lot on us and we didn’t pressure that enough,” Church said. “Hats off to them; they’re a strong team and they made more plays than us at the end.”
The Storm ran into a A5 Mizuno attack that features 6-foot-3 middle Jacque Boney, a Michigan commit. Boney collected 15 kills and five blocks in the victory.
“This was our first time being here so I just wanted to stuff block them and go get the ball,” Boney said.
So what did it take to close out win No. 2?
“We had to keep the mindset of intensity and always being intense because we sometimes lose our momentum,” Boney said. “Then we just have to focus and realize that it’s just volleyball.”
“It’s all about momentum swings and it also comes down to the basics,” A5 Mizuno coach Gabe Aramian said. “Our passing broke down at the end in both sets, but we were able to prevail.”
Aramian has a lot of faith in his squad, which played in its final pool game at 1 p.m. And why shouldn’t he? Aramian has coached the Georgia-based club 16s to the promised land once before, a NIT championship in 2017 in Salt Lake City.
“They can be as good as they want to be,” Aramian said of his current group. “It’s going to come down to errors and passing. If we can limit our errors to six or so per set and pass at 2-2 or above, we should be pretty set.”
As for the Storm, which also played its pool finale at 1 p.m., Church recognized that there is still plenty volleyball to be played. His team’s first loss did come only three hours into the tournament.
“This game isn’t going to define us,” Church said. “We had some swings there, but we just couldn’t get it done. We’re very talented just like everyone here in this strong tournament. We had the potential to come back from any deficit.”
By Matt Antonic
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The first match of the day didn’t turn out the way Club TStreet hoped. But it was noon on Saturday at the Triple Crown NIT, and the team realized there was still plenty of time to turn things around in their Power Pool.
It managed to do so against Texas-based Club Madfrog, winning in straight sets (25-23), (25-19).
TStreet, based out of Irvine, California, was firmly in control of both sets, and consistently had Madfrog scrambling defensively. After the morning loss, the team’s frustration helped motivate it and bring the players together. Coach Mike Murphy said he was impressed with the improvement in his team’s discipline since the initial loss.
“We started having better postures and body language,” Murphy said. “We noticed that the first match we played was the first match of the season, and we should have won it, but it’s early in the tournament and I think we have a great shot to medal and win.”
Elyse Stowell echoed her coach, and added that TStreet is on a mission to prove itself at this tournament.
“We talked about this, the game before we had some rough points, and they’d get ahead and we wouldn’t be doing well, but we talked about it and decided that we all need to come together shake it off,” Stowell said.
TStreet didn’t have nearly as much trouble in the second set, jumping out to a 10-6 lead. Each time Madfrog tried to make a run, TStreet snuffed it out, thanks to an extremely organized effort on defense. A Madfrog rally managed to cut the TStreet lead to 18-17, but that would be as close as they would get.
“I think we were a little bit more disciplined,” Murphy said. “Most of the time it’s about us regaining and reasserting ourselves in control of the match. I felt like at any moment we could have been on top of that team.”
Only a handful of TStreet mishaps on serves kept Madfrog in the second set, but the pressure applied by a well-organized TStreet was too much to overcome. It was just the second match of the season for TStreet, which has been practicing for almost three months. The team appears to have finally knocked the rust off.
“At any given point and really you’ve got six assignments and so it’s a lot on the kids,” Murphy said. “They’re good at what they do and they’ve got great minds, and I have high expectations for these kids.”
By Kyle Koso
KANSAS CITY, Mo – For the Elevation 18 Elite volleyball squad, there’s no real shock when those players get rolling and build leads in a given match.
It’s also true, however, that the Cincinnati-based team has seen opponents come back and make things interesting, maybe more compelling than necessary. There was some give and take in Saturday’s match against Minnesota Select, but Elevation muscled up over the long haul to claim a 25-16, 25-19 Power Pool victory to go to 2-1 on the day at the Triple Crown NIT.
Falling in three sets to Sunshine (CA) to start the day left Elevation a tad frustrated, but the plan wisely turned to just letting their skills rise to the surface. Against Minnesota Select, Elevation had a 10-3 lead in Game 1, saw it shrink to 14-10, then pulled away as Maggie King and Julia Wilkins thumped away on offense.
In Game 2, a 7-7 score tipped to Elevation’s favor (17-11), then back to 20-18, but again an ability to survive long points got the job done.
“Sometimes, we get ahead and back off on the intensity. We just remind each other constantly to play at our level and not stoop down to anything else,” said King, who will play college volleyball at Western Michigan. “We didn’t start today on the right foot, but we put that match behind us. We’re good at looking forward and how we can improve the next set. Our chemistry is amazing, and we get along very well.”
King authored a series of difficult serves, swinging from the back right corner well away from the court in her unusual fashion.
“Last year at the beginning of club season, I was serving a lot of them out, so my coach changed it up so I have more angle going diagonally,” King added.
Wilkins (headed to play at Seton Hall) caused a lot of damage with kills on slide plays to the right pin; Minnesota Select never really solved it, and it was a reliable source of points all match.
“We had a rough start and were kind of mad about it,” she said. “And when we get up a bit, we do let up, and we have to remind each other we aren’t not done yet, and we have to keep working.
“I’m normally not the middle, I usually am right side, but our middle was gone … the (slide play), I’ve played with (setter) Logan (Case) in club and high school, so we have a pretty good connection.”
Defensively, Elevation worked hard and did a nice job neutralizing the effect of Syra Tanchin, a North Dakota State signee who had arguably the most potent swing for the opposition.
Elevation coach Lisa Schaad also got great production from Jada Bouyer, who is new to the team this year, and Sam Wolf also smoked a series of kills shots, one bouncing so hard off the block it flew into the upper reaches of the convention center, delaying the match until another ball was tracked down.
“We got better as the day went on. Hopefully, we will continue that,” Schaad said. “Our team has always seems to face a trouble-server, someone on the other side of the net who gives us a lot of trouble, so it happens and our girls are used to that. They know they need to dig in and get two points for every one after that big server.
“We don’t have a ton of size, but I believe mental strength can beat physical strength any day. This team has that mental strength and chemistry, but unfortunately we don’t get ranked on that.”
By Matt Antonic
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The coaches mingled around Courts 1-9 at the Kansas City Convention Center, watching 150 upperclassmen girls run through drills with a surprising level of intensity. Juniors wore pink. Seniors wore blue. Their shirts were different colors, but they said the same thing: Unsigned.
The girls participating in the drills weren’t in an ordinary skills camp; they were participating in the Triple Crown Unsigned Workout, a chance for upperclassmen girls who have yet to sign with a college program to showcase their skills in front of coaching staffs.
The sold-out event was led by Mike Lingenfelter, the director of Munciana Volleyball. He opened the event with a short speech to the participants. The second he finished speaking, all participants ran to their first drill, and went full speed for the next hour and a half. Players went from drill to drill based on their positions.
“I think it was really good because everyone was really competitive and obviously, if you want to play, you’re here,” senior Jewell Johnson said. “You got to be with new people, and it forced you to talk, and it brings a new energy with people who are all dedicated to playing.”
Johnson, a senior from New Orleans and member of WD Nation, said that she isn’t deterred from finding a school to play at despite being later than what may be typical. “Although I feel like I’m kind of late in the recruiting process, I thought it would still be a good move, because obviously coaches are coming to watch you play, so I think it’s always a great experience to get exposure,” she said.
Georgetown coach Toby Rens was one of over 100 coaches who signed on to watch and scout at the event. Coming with an open mind, Rens was surprised by the level of play.
“We come from the point of view of leave no rock unturned,” he said. “I wanted to see what was turning out, and I was surprised with the talents of some of the kids that are unsigned. They were going hard. It was well run, and you could tell a lot of preparation was put into it.”
Events like this are unique, but due to changing NCAA legislation, could become more common. “I think we are going to see more and more of this because of the new legislation,” Rens said. “We used to be able to have more contact with freshman and sophomores in high school, and offer them scholarships, and now we cannot.”
The new rules stipulate that athletes can contact coaches through a third party, but coaches must wait until the athlete’s junior year before contacting them directly. While it may change the recruiting process, Rens said that might not be a bad thing.
“It takes a lot of pressure off of the student athletes,” Rens said, “and allows them to be kids in high school for a little while longer.”