KANSAS CITY, MO – There’s a temptation to think the MadFrog 13 Elite squad had a breezy run through the Triple Crown NIT, going 9-0 overall with 18 sets won and just one set lost. But it’s likely the key to MadFrog winning its division had more to do with a moment of struggle.
Thanks to a character-building three-set grinder in the semifinals against Dynasty VBC, MadFrog understood how to work through the low points before claiming the highest ground in a 25-13, 25-22 victory over FarOut in the title match.
Things looked more than a little distressing for MadFrog in the semis, falling behind Dynasty 14-5 in the first set. But despite the odds, MadFrog stormed back to win that set, 26-24. The hard work continued as Dynasty claimed second set, but the roster showed its tenacity and calm by prevailing in the final set, 15-12.
“It was good to see them challenged, and to see them fight back,” said MadFrog 13’s coach Stefanie Samuels. “Game 1 of the final – we were definitely fired up. That win against Dynasty for the semis was really tough and super intense. We came off of that with a lot of energy. The second set (against FarOut) got a little tighter; they’re 13-year-old girls, and sometimes the mindset is where they might coast a bit and be a little comfortable.
“FarOut was very good and surprised me in the final. We were able to hold onto it; the girls had their composure in the final and stayed calm, cool and collected.”
From a player perspective, MadFrog saw the semifinal as a true learning experience, with that wisdom becoming a perfect launching pad for success in the championship match.
“It was scary; we were trying to get our energy level up so we could play better as a team. We got together, understood we needed a good pass, good set, good hit,” said MadFrog’s Karli Jordan. “Our adrenaline was up; we kind of needed to calm down and get ourselves right. We knew working as a team would get us through the (final). That was fun and stressful at the same time.”
“Our team just tried to hold on; everyone just suddenly got together, and we kept going until the end. It paid off. That let us know we still have the ability to (perform well), so don’t give up no matter how down we are,” said Sophia Wei. “Going into the final, we were more pumped up. After that (comeback win), we felt good about ourselves. For the finals, we had pushed so hard, so we continued fighting until the end. Our coach called a timeout in second set and got us back on track and checked back in mentally, and we realized that it was time to get business done or else it would be too late. We accomplished a lot as a team, and it felt really good.”
Three days of intensely competitive volleyball at the Triple Crown NIT delivered a number of champions at various age groups, and we congratulate those teams that thrived and survived in Kansas City over President’s Day Weekend.
But only one program headed home with the 2020 Top Club Award – A5 Volleyball Club!
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. A5 Volleyball (290 points) – Based out of north Atlanta, A5 was a factor in multiple age groups, with the 17-Jing team winning at 17 Elite, and both 18-Scott and 14-Helen taking second place in their elite divisions.
2. Legacy (200) – Located in northwest Detroit, Legacy came away with Elite division titles at 18’s and 15’s and moved up from a tie for sixth in last year’s Club standings.
3. Texas Advantage (180) – TAV (suburban Dallas) had won two of the previous three Club awards; in 2020, the 18’s and 17’s and 14’s reached the quarterfinals.
4. Wave (140) – Based in Del Mar, CA., Wave reached the quarterfinals at 16 Elite and 14 Elite.
T5. TStreet (Irvine, CA), Skyline (Dallas), MadFrog (Dallas), all with 120 points. MadFrog excelled at the younger age groups, winning the 12 Elite and 13 Elite titles while getting to the 16 Elite semifinals. Skyline made the 16 Elite semifinals and 17 Elite quarterfinals; TStreet reached the 17 Elite quarterfinals and the 15 Elite semifinals.
T8. Club Ignit (IA), OT (FL), Dynasty (KS), all with 100 points. Club Ignit (Des Moines) took the title at 16 Elite; OT (Orlando/Tampa) got to the quarterfinals at 16 Elite and 15 Elite; Dynasty (Kansas City) ended up in the 14 Elite quarterfinals, the 13 Elite semifinals and the 12 Elite championship match.
By Kyle Koso
KANSAS CITY, MO -- The Dynasty Volleyball club made its debut at the Triple Crown NIT in 2019, when the event moved from Salt Lake City to Kansas City -- it made for a pleasant trip for Dynasty, based in KC's suburbs.
As it turned out, the 13 Elite Dynasty team took home the title in 2019, then decided to mix the roster up a bit with five new players as it went for the repeat in 2020 at 14 Elite. It appears the NIT and Dynasty are proving to be a natural fit, as Dynasty fulfilled its own high expectations and won again, beating A5 Mizuno-Helen in three sets, 25-19, 24-26, 15-9.
A kill from Carlie Cisneros actually gave Dynasty a lead in Game 2, 18-16, and winners from Nela Misipeka put the team on the doorstep of a sweep at 23-22 before A5 fought back to tie it. Dealing with that disappointment and having to extend the effort was critical for Dynasty.
"We thought about how we got where we were today, and we weren't going to let it go away because of a lousy set we had," said Cisneros, who answered the call repeatedly when a shot was needed. "We were going to keep fighting and not let anything change the fact we are champions. I'm one of the new players; this was a huge change. I was playing in the USA division, and now I'm on one of the best teams in the nation.
"Our defense was on point, and we never let anything drop. Our middles were always closing the block, doing what they're supposed to. It's amazing, and it's really great to know they trusted me and felt confident enough to give me the final ball. I took care of it, and that felt really great."
Misipeka is one of those surprise players who comes by rarely, standing just 5-foot-6 but incredibly springy and always a factor on the outside. She said at about age 12, it became obvious she had the vertical jump that makes a difference in the sport.
"Our pins hitters are unstoppable, and for me to have that pressure on me, I just work harder and try to get that kill for my team," she said. "After Game 2, we talked about keeping the intensity, and that communication was key. Winning this again was something I really wanted, and for us to work hard and get this is really great."
Game 3 was tied at 6-all; two kills from Misipeka made it 9-6, and two more winners from Ava Spachek pushed it to 11-7. Two clever tips from Misipeka got it near the finish line, and a block from Abigail Mullen sealed the verdict.
"We wanted to get a little bit longer; we're still pretty small compared to nationally, but we have so much versatility on our pins. We have four of the best in the country," said Dynasty coach Levi Gibson. "We want to keep people on their toes and move the ball around. We play with a chip on our shoulder, and in these environments we are comfortable.
"This is a coming of age tournament for some of our kids. Sometimes we stepped away from our game plan in the second set; we went over it again, and when we execute we can play at a real high level. That was a barnburner and it could have gone either way; the margin of victory is so small, and we were happy to comer out on top. We'll see those guys a lot this year."
by Matthew Antonic
OLATHE, KS -- To say MadFrog’s victory Monday over the KC Dynasty to clinch the championship in the 12 Elite division at the Triple Crown NIT was hard-fought would be an understatement.
“Ferocious” would probably be a more appropriate term to describe the team’s effort to secure the trophy and gold medals.
The energy level from the black and green side was incredible, from the players, coaches and a spirited section of families that had traveled all the way to the Kansas City area from Texas.
“It feels good,” Simone Heard said after her team dispatched Dynasty VBC (KS) in three exciting sets (16-25, 25-23, 15-10). “I’m so excited that we drove all the way over here just to win, and we did exactly what you wanted.”
MadFrog finished with an incredibly strong effort but struggled mightily out of the gate, losing a relatively uncompetitive first set by nine points. Head coach Stephanie Lewellen chalked that up to a tendency for the team to start slowly in the first set and then finish strong.
However, the coaches never wavered after the rough start, and the players certainly didn’t either. In fact, the MadFrog sideline was one of the most notably energetic sidelines in the entire MAVS volleyball facility Monday afternoon.
During the competitive second and third sets, Lewellen said she was proud of her team for keeping their composure, especially with all the noise around them.
“The emotions that we’re feeding them from the sideline, that’s how they’re going to respond,” she said. “We always try to keep it high-energy, but level-headed and try to stay cool, calm and collected.”
MadFrog and Dynasty were tied at 16-16 in the second set before taking control, holding off a rally at the very end to force a third and final set.
“We just went out thinking ‘this is our game,’” Gabi Rodriguez said. “We wanted to leave it all out there because it was our last game.”
"We just went out and believed in ourselves and trusted each other for every ball,” Heard added.
In the final set, the teams traded points until six, when MadFrog went on a crucial 4-0 run to take control, leading 10-6. Once MadFrog had control, the Dynasty were buried in too large a hole to fight back.
The Triple Crown NIT Tournament was a new setting for the MadFrog 12u group. The club has been well represented by older teams in the past, and this was the first go of it for Lewellen’s group. It’s safe to say that the experience, capped off by a photo op with the first-place trophy, was well worth it.
“We couldn’t ask for anything better,” Lewellen said.
When Rodriguez spoke, her voice was hoarse from screaming during the match. Communication, Lewellen and Heard emphasized, was key to the team’s victory, and MadFrog players were especially vocal on the court and the sideline for every point.
Rodriguez’ answer about the team’s work ethic wasn’t lengthy, but it didn’t have to be. The final result helped speak for her -- “The hours we put in and all the work, it definitely paid off.”
By Kyle Koso
KANSAS CITY, MO -- Volleyball is packed with mysterious changes in momentum, with weird and random bounces and shots that can turn a match on its head.
So when you've got something reliable and trusted, like the lineup of the Legacy Black 18 Elite team, you've got some insurance against the unexpected.
After last year's Legacy 18's (MI) took first place at the 2019 Triple Crown NIT, the next group moved up and measured up in every way, topping A5 Mizuno-Scott (GA) in straight sets Monday to earn the 18 Elite championship, 25-20, 28-26 at the Kansas City Convention Center. With a lineup that is an ideal blend of length, strength and speed, Legacy fought off two late set points in Game 2 and closed the door with a block from South Carolina commit Ellie Ruprich.
"What was amazing about today for us, from the first match and even previously, we played so cohesively. A lot of us have been together for five or six years now, so we know each other's tendencies," said setter Alexa Rousseau, who is headed to play at Northwestern. "We know what works, what to say to each other. Every part of our game was on, and as one. Our work as a team and our mental toughness helped us win."
Rousseau made a wise choice at 26-all in the third game, after she tried to dump the ball quickly over the net only to see A5 jump in and dig the ball. A few seconds later, Rousseau decided to soft-serve another shot, this time to an open spot in the back right of the court, making it 27-26 and setting the stage for Ruprich's last swing.
"We've been trying to find those places that work for me, because I know when we get into trouble I have to use myself as an option," Rousseau said. "Knowing it was there, having the confidence to go and redeem myself, I was playing and not thinking. It worked out."
A5 Mizuno had an early lead in Game 1, but a tip from Kendall Murray (Michigan) and an ace from Ruprich made it 21-16 for Legacy. Megan Dombrowski (West Virginia) punched a winner to make it 24-20, and a block from Lauren King (VCU) finished the game.
"Our team has a variety, we can swing anywhere on the court, and that's one of strengths here at the beginning of the year," said Murray, who was driving down shots all day. "We can hit from anywhere, use our speed, and we try to use that in every match. We tell each other all the time to focus on our side, do what we know how to do. It's a honor (to be relied upon), but I can't do anything without people around me. It's fun to play with my best friends, you really can't ask for anything more."
Legacy coach Bryan Lindstrom recalled how often this group played last year's 18 Black, and how frustrating it was to never beat them. The 2020 version certainly looks ready for its own run of successes.
"We got fifth at JO's and fifth here last year as 17's, and we battled (the 18's) every single day in practice and never won. Our mantra was, how do we follow that group up," Lindstrom said. "We had teams lined up that we were able to get revenge on, and after that our confidence was through the roof. Our libero, Kennedy (Dolmage, an Oakland commit) played out of her mind, and our setter is super tough to defend, whether she's hitting or dumping the ball.
"If that was us on Day 1, we would have lost that match. Our momentum picked up ... we had one of our middle go down Sunday, had a kid fill in, so we had that confidence and belief that we're not done until it is over."
by Kyle Koso
KANSAS CITY, MO -- In 2019, a group of volleyball players under the moniker of Club Iowa Select shocked mostly everyone attending the Triple Crown NIT, storming past national powerhouses to a second-pace finish in the 15 Elite division.
Minor changes to the roster, and a change of name to Club Ignit Select, didn't mask anything about the team's ability to excel against the best teams in the nation, as the 2020 TC NIT saw Club Ignit take charge in the 16 Elite bracket Monday, winning a three-set semifinal before coming back to top the Arizona Storm for the championship, 19-25, 25-21, 15-7 at the Kansas City Convention Center.
CIS didn't quite display all of its attributes in Game 1, while Arizona took command thanks to high-flying kills from Jordan Middleton and a mix of smart plays from Anita Babic, Laylah Daniel and others. Game 2 was a separate tale, with Hayden Kubik being asked to swing away and delivering multiple points as Ava Reynolds and setter Lauren Carter followed through with timely contributions.
And after back-to-back aces from Dasha Svitashev made it 19-17, CIS went on to split sets -- no one could forsee Game 3's path, where CIS used a 9-0 run to smooth its journey to the title.
"Some of (the Storm's) contact points are maybe a little different than other players we've seen, their offense is a little different ... it was important for our middles to identify (the hitters) and for us to defend," said CIS coach Tina Carter. "That's what we've been doing this whole weekend. Our ball control is what led us to this point."
And when able to stay in system, Lauren Carter can get the ball to CIS' assortment of weapons. Kubik scored four straight points to start Game 2; she had a critical winner to make it 23-21, and a couple of kills and two aces in Game 3 also proved huge, as CIS rode faith in itself while the Storm looked a bit tight in the latter stretches.
"I take it as I'm grateful for my teammates trusting me. Having them play with me is an awesome opportunity," Kubik said. "This year, we had a purpose, and we came here for a reason. The first set, we kind of sat back, so we said, 'we gotta go.' I don't really know how Game 3 happened, I just focused really hard on my serves and took a deep breath, kept going."
"I think that's what good players do," coach Carter said about Kubik's ability to dictate the moment. "She's got that high IQ, understands how to play big, play smart, use the block to her advantage, be aware she'll be targeted a lot, and I thought she responded really well."
Game 2 saw CIS in danger of losing in straight sets, to be sure. Arizona took a 17-16 lead on a kill from Kylie Moran, and Middleton got the Storm within 22-21 on a nice shot before CIS won the game on a Reynolds kill.
"This tournament just may be a little magical for us. Over three days, playing elite competition, it raises the confidence of the girls when we are having success," coach Carter said. "There's this genuine trust; I've had a lot of them since they were 12's, so they're used to each other, trusting that the person next to you is doing what they are supposed to.
"When you're playing teams that big and physical, you can't just run things straight ahead. Being able to stretch them a bit was a key."
Game 3 actually saw CIS down 3-1, but a block from Sam Schroeder changed the mood; a net-cord ace from Kubik made it 12-4, ending the run.
"This is my first year on the team, and it's really helped me being with all these players," Reynolds said. "They've made me better, I've made them better, and we really have come together as a team. We believed in our hearts (even after) Game 1 that we could win it. We needed to use every player to get it done. You can't be intimidated; you have to know your skills and trust your training, be confident and attack the ball at all times."
by Kyle Koso
KANSAS CITY, MO -- For the Drive Nation Red 15 Elite squad, Sunday's final match at the Triple Crown NIT unfolded at first like a highlight reel.
And while the plot shifted into more tense territory, Drive Nation (TX) refused to get flustered and made sure to capitalize on it many strengths, moving past Dynasty (KS) in two sets, 25-13, 25-22, to earn a spot in the 15 Elite quarterfinals of the Triple Crown NIT.
With setter Lily Nicholson dealing the ball, Drive Nation offensive forces Samantha Hoppes and Lauryn Hill simply overwhelmed everything in their path in Game 1, which got off to a bizarre start after a 10-minute delay that ended up wiping Dynasty's first two points off the scoreboard. Not only did the points come with ease, the Drive Nation defense was taking charge at the net - a block from Hoppes made it 18-8, and there was little debate at how the game would end.
Dynasty seemed refreshed after getting out of the first game and began to make Drive Nation sweat. A cluster of kills from Rylee Unruh and some timely swings by Adelyn Bybee pushed Dynasty up as much as 7-3 and 12-9, which got Drive Nation thinking about how to respond.
"I'm a very energetic person, and my team is very supportive. That's the best thing," said Hoppes. "I just try to take advantage of that moment and do my best. Sometimes, I don't always make the blocks, but I try not to get frustrated. When we got off the court (in between games), we decided we'd do what it takes and not let a ball hit the floor. We tried to stick together."
"I know I don't always have to put the ball down. I can look for high hands, and remember to breathe," said Hill, who was a little wild on two shots in Game 2 but nailed a key winner to tie it at 22-all. "We were trying not to freak out in Game 2, and remember that it's one point at a time. Whatever we put our minds to, we can do it, play not as individuals."
Drive Nation's roster is still rather new, so players and roles are still settling into place. Head coach Kevin Anderson has the comfort of not just two primary hammers in Hoppes and Hill, but other players who play well in big moments.
The team came back from those early Game 2 holes to take a 20-17 lead, only to see Dynasty sprint back ahead, 21-20. Alexa Grabow put one down to tie it at 21-all, and after Dynasty made an out-of-character error to fall behind 23-22, Autumn Perry finished it off for Drive Nation with two big-time kills.
"We had a hitting error, when we could have gone up 21-17; we had to battle back. We knew offensively that if we could stay in system, they wouldn't be able to stop us," Anderson said. "When (Hoppes and Hill) are rolling, we all are rolling, is what it comes down to. We are where we thought we should be; Saturday wasn't the best day for us, but we got in a rhythm today."
By Adam Burns
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – They were one point away from earning their first set victory of the day. But then a key player fell to the ground in pain.
A knee injury forced Cleveland Volleyball Company middle hitter Sarah Karabatsos to the bench Sunday afternoon. The injury didn’t shake the CVC 14s. Instead, it ignited them.
Playing with passion, an energetic CVC rallied past Club V in straight-set fashion 25-22, 25-14 during open pool play of the Triple Crown NIT at the Kansas City Convention Center.
“We were all heartbroken at the beginning, so we wanted to do well for her,” libero Sara Snowbarger said. “Our whole team just came together. We just said ‘let’s go’ and show them what we can do and don’t give up.”
Fortunately for CVC, after the scare, Karabatsos was deemed OK and even cleared to play, according to CVC coach Ron Gasper.
“She has never been injured so she was freaked out,” Gasper said. “We tried to get her back in but the sub rule (came into play).”
Despite not having Karabatsos at its disposal the rest of the way, CVC quickly found a rhythm. With an extra pep in its step, too. After a competitive first set with Utah-based Club V, CVC logged the first five points of set No. 2 to gain momentum. CVC added a pair of 5-0 runs to extend its lead to 16-4 to take full control.
Snowbarger, who’s competing up as an 11-year-old, credited the team’s togetherness for the rally.
“I feel like in tough games and situations like that, it’s just so much easier to get through the game because our team supports each other,” she said.
Gasper agreed, adding with a laugh, “We never have any issues, but sometimes you want them to forget that they're friends a bit.”
This was just the beginning of CVC’s Sunday. The squad, now 2-2 on the tourney, continued pool play on Sunday prior to the reseeding of the division later this evening. They’ll conclude play in the NIT on Monday.
“They’re competing at a level which is new for them, which is nice,” Gasper said. “This was a really big win for us. We’re normally fighting tooth and nail to just find a rhythm, so I think (playing in) the afternoon is the secret.”
Not that Gasper’s exactly surprised by the result. It turns out some coaching on his end may have played a role.
“We’ve been working a lot on their mental game this year,” he said. “And I’m as happy as I can be after seeing how they reacted to the adversity. They stepped up, and it made me super happy.”
by Matthew Antonic
After winning the first set convincingly over VC United, the Houston Stellar found themselves in a tied second set, 8-8, in 17u pool play Sunday afternoon.
Then it rattled off a point. And another. And another. The floodgates opened, the Stellar could do no wrong, and only after a 10-0 run did VC United temporarily stop the bleeding.
The dominant stretch propelled the Stellar to a win in straight sets (25-20, 25-18) as action continued at the Triple Crown NIT.
“We just kept up our serves and our offense was great,” Talitha Lew said. “We just kept going and communicating with each other.”
When the Stellar had pushed the lead to 12-8, VC United called a timeout, but it did nothing to slow down the Texas-based side. The team’s system was being executed to perfection.
Lew was an anchor for the Stellar defensively, helping keep the team organized while VC United attempted to rally back. It did momentarily knock on the door near the end, cutting the Stellar lead to 23-18.
However, Lew and the Stellar would not be denied the victory, with the team scoring two final emphatic points at the net to cap off the victory.
Blakely Montgomery said the team’s efforts in practice have paid off during the tournament.
“We worked a lot with our middles creating splits for outside,” she said, “and with everybody going hard all the time even when they make mistakes.”
Montgomery also praised the team’s ball movement, which was consistent all match and caused several defensive issues for VC United.
The Stellar players have shown off their creativity during the tournament at the Kansas City Convention Center, along with their energy as a team.
“Today, we started off a little quiet, but then we got really hyped,” Lew said.
Lew and Montgomery were as energetic as anyone on the court, constantly offering praise for the many good plays made by their teammates.
Stellar coach Christian Dunn was pleased as he watched his team record a strong win from the sideline. The key to this group’s skill on the court, he said, is the familiarity of players who have been together for many seasons.
”The core group of these girls have played together for a long time, and we added some pieces that we thought could take us to the next level this year,” Dunn said, “and they’ve done a good job filling in where they should be and progressing.”
At this level, Dunn said, coaches are always stressing communication to players. When the Stellar are talking, he said, dominant stretches of play like the one on display Sunday will naturally follow.
“When they’re communicating with each other, sometimes they get on a roll and they’re unstoppable. Playing with each other for so long, it just works,” he said.
by Adam Burns
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Vision Gold 18s needed a strong Sunday. That’s exactly what they cashed in.
After a 1-2 opening day, Vision entered Sunday’s Triple Crown NIT Elite bracket play with a chip on its shoulder. At the end of the day, Vision registered a 3-0 day with a trio of strong wins, the final one a 25-21, 24-26, 15-5 win over Top Select.
“I’m super proud of us,” setter and UCLA commit Audrey Pak said. “I think we came out really strong and everyone just did their job and we beat some high level teams.”
The other wins were just as impressive, a competitive straight-set victory (26-24, 26-24) over Munciana Samurai, and another three-set ‘W’ over SAS Girls (22-25, 25-22, 15-8).
“Pretty high level of opponents,” Vision coach Tyler Taylor said. “I was really impressed with our ability to come out and side out efficiently, and we knew that (Top Select) had some really good attackers so our ability to get an extra chance made the difference.”
Vision’s attack, meanwhile, is no joke. Combined with the steady play of Pak, Vision’s setter, Loyola Marymount commit Ellen Veargason, Fordham commit Whitley Moody and UCLA commit Skylar Canady provide a formidable hitting trio.
“It’s always nice to have a lot of options,” Taylor said, “but our setter (Pak) really makes those options. If we didn’t have somebody that could get the ball to them then we wouldn’t be as effective. It’s great to have the pins, but it’s even better when you have the setter to get them the ball like we did.”
Now, Vision (4-2) sets its sights on Championship Monday when they’ll take on A5 Mizuno at 8 a.m. on Court 2.
by Matthew Antonic
KANSAS CITY, MO — If you were only focused on watching Team Indiana’s Elite 18 captain Anna Murphy, you might not be able to tell whether the team won or lost a point. No matter the result, she is focused on being a positive leader.
On Sunday in 18 Open bracket play at the Triple Crown NIT, her reassurances to her teammates paid dividends. Team Indiana fought off a strong challenge from the San Antonio Magic, winning in straight sets (25-21, 25-18).
"We lost this morning, which I was kind of worried about how today would go, because that’s pretty deflating,” Murphy said. "I’m really happy with how we came back and won the next two games so I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”
Whatever deflation Murphy was feeling was gone as soon as the next match started. It’s the mentality Team Indiana always plays with: don't linger on the disappointments of a match, and move on to the next point.
"We talk a lot in practice about having a short-term memory,” Team Indiana coach Michelle Coleman said. "There is not time in this game to let one turn into two, turn into three, so the quicker you can hit the reset button, the faster you’re going to have success and be able to turn the page.”
There were opportunities for a team with less mental fortitude to grow frustrated during the match at the Kansas City Convention Center. There was a dispute over a call, and the Magic continued to make mini-run after mini-run whenever it seemed that Team Indiana was in control.
It wasn’t easy, but at the TC NIT, it’s never going to be easy. Team Indiana remained fundamentally sound on defense, and communicated well to remain organized as a team.
"Our ball control is pretty solid,” Coleman said. "If we can control first contact, usually good things happen for us. We’ve got a great group of kids that fight and try to earn every point they can.”
Team Indiana controlled a majority of both sets, but in each one, the Magic battled back to get on level terms, taking advantage of a handful of mistakes. However, Team Indiana remained disciplined, and it was most apparent at the end of each set.
Both teams were tied at 18 apiece in the first set. Team Indiana won by four. The teams were tied at 16 each in the second set. Team Indiana ran away with it, winning by seven points. Once the momentum was seized, there was no looking back.
The run to win the second set came after the Magic had gone on a run of their own, scoring four unanswered to tie the game at 16. Just when it seemed as if the club from the Lone Star State had seized the momentum, Team Indiana took it right back.
"I was really happy with how we came back,” Murphy said. "We just decided that no ball is hitting the ground on our side. We got two blocks, there great digs, and were really clean and efficient.”
Team Indiana also benefited from strong serving technique. The Magic were caught out of position multiple times, and Team Indiana changed up its serve placement, catching the Magic off guard.
"We try to mix things up as much as we can,” Coleman said. "One of our coaches is pretty aggressive from a zone standpoint. Today it worked really well. The short serves really put us in a good position, because it takes their offense out, so it makes things a little more predictable for us, so that we can really establish our defense and be ready to go."
Team Indiana lost its first match in the morning, but showed how adept it is at putting negativity behind it by rattling off wins in its next two matches.
"You don’t have to worry about the next point,” Rilee Jessee said. "You don’t have time to do that. I think a lot of our mistakes this morning were falling on that, and this time we came out and as a team we were really focused."
by Thomas Hoffman
KANSAS CITY, MO – The Triple Crown Volleyball NIT continues to bring together the best clubs from around the nation and now, U.S. territories.
Capitanas Arecibo Xtreme 14u from Puerto Rico didn’t arrive in Kansas City to play a couple of volleyball matches and enjoy the city. Coach Carlos Alvarez’s girls came to prove a point, and with their recent 2-0 (25-23, 25-23) victory over the No. 1 seeded WAVE Juliana, they might’ve done just that.
“I don’t know if we’re the best team here,” said Alvarez. “But I do know that we’re going to work the hardest, and that’s what we did today.”
Capitanas’ energy was noticeable from the get-go. Racing out to an early 10-5 lead, the Xtreme took command of the opening set. Point after point, Alvarez’s team chased down balls and never let a possession go to waste. Behind it all was setter and captain Dariana Valencia.
“I am so proud to represent Puerto Rico here at this tournament,” Valencia explained. “It gives me pride and energy every time we step and the floor. I want to show everyone what we can do.”
Frequently, it was Karolina Rodriguez on the receiving end of Valencia’s perfect sets. Rodriguez notched five kills in the opening frame and nine total throughout the contest.
WAVE Juliana earned the No. 1 seed for a reason, though. Dropping only one set on Saturday, WAVE were determined to prevent one from slipping away on Monday afternoon.
Two separate runs of three points in a row brought WAVE back to within one, 24-23, before Rodriguez dealt the decisive blow for Capitanas.
“We felt them coming back and they were beginning to have momentum,” Valencia said. “We just concentrate on getting the next point and that was it.”
Set number two opened with an impossibly long rally, one that stretched nearly a minute in length. With twists, turns, dives, spikes and blocks, it disappointingly came to an abrupt end with a WAVE attacking error.
Fifty-fifty points became the running theme throughout the set, with WAVE more often than not failing to capitalize on a moment or two. Meanwhile, Valencia and Capitanas’ unrelenting attitude led to another sizeable lead.
Once more though, WAVE bounced back. With its backs to the wall, 20-14, WAVE furiously mounted a charge to bring the set within one for the second time, 24-23. Fittingly, one more attack error from WAVE ended another exhausting point, this time officially handing the match win to Capitanas.
“We prepare for this,” Alvarez said. “We work all year to play in this tournament. I am so happy to see the team perform like this”
Capitanas’ hard work vaulted them into Monday morning’s semifinals where they’ll face A5 Mizuno 14-Helen. Two more wins and Alvarez can send his players and their families home with the prize they've desired.
“It’s all about the team,” Valencia said. “We prepare as a team, we concentrate as a team and we just need to play the game we know.”
By Kyle Koso
KANSAS CITY, MO -- While there was nothing untrue about the early scoreboard for the LoneStar 16 Red squad, everyone knew the results really couldn't be trusted.
Playing to advance Sunday in the 16 Open division of the Triple Crown NIT, LoneStar (TX) jumped all over Rainbow Volleyball Club (HA) in Game 1 and pocketed a 25-14 victory. But RVCH would never think of going quietly, and LoneStar had to summon a more complete approach before coming from behind to win Game 2, 25-21 and reach the Open quarterfinals.
LoneStar will face the Rockwood Thunder Elite on Monday at 9 a.m., with the winner going to the semifinals.
Blessed with a tall and athletic roster, LoneStar can just rely on physical presence at times, and the team's ability to control the net and force the opponent to change tactics certainly impacted Game 1. Jessie Moore's block gave LoneStar a 17-7 lead, allowing the team to breeze the rest of the way.
RVCH came back inspired, digging up shots and getting some explosive moments on offense -- Jaelyn Tang's kill gave Rainbow an 11-7 lead in Game 2, and big swings from Emi Erickson also kept RVCH in range. LoneStar regrouped and went from a 15-all tie to a 19-15 lead, with kills from Moore and Mikah Finley coming late in the game to preserve the lead.
"It was a little frustrating, but I had trust in my team. I just needed to stay focused, as all of us did," said Kelsey Perry, whose dominant presence in the middle was key to the lead swinging LoneStar's way in Game 2. "It's a great feeling (when commanding the net), with lots of energy, and I love it when we have that. We're expecting to do well -- we should have won our first game (in Saturday's power pool) but no matter what happens, we will keep fighting."
"No matter how it goes, we have to stay together. Win or lose, I always trust my teammates ... I just try to run the offense and always be positive on the court," said setter and hitter Jazzlyn Ford, who had back-to-back aces in Game 2 and always seemed to be in the middle of point-producing plays. "If the other teams dig, good for them, but I stay positive. It feels great knowing that we can get teams upside down, that's a great vibe and a really good feeling."
LoneStar head coach Jacob Hannan has run the show with this group since it was an 11u team and has been determined to make sure their physical attributes aren't the sole identity of the roster.
"We know we are a good blocking team; we struggle sometimes with smaller teams because we tend to not put our hands over the net. When it starts to connect, you can see us dominate because we are one of the biggest teams here," he said. "We can get too close to the net sometimes, which causes problems. We've been very good about creating a defensive tenacity, and we've learned we have to block and play defense (behind it), put those two things together.
"We've worked on the mental aspect ... we do our best to say the last point doesn't matter. If you look at us, we create a huddle, and we look each other in the eye. It's about what's about to happen. In the power pools, we'd lose the first set and then win the second and third set, and no one looked afraid or scared. They had the confidence to come back."
by Kyle Koso
KANSAS CITY, MO -- Looking to get back in the mix after dropping its first match Saturday, the Rockwood Thunder 17 Elite (MO) played a steady brand of volleyball and took a one-game lead against Sunshine South Bay (CA) at the Triple Crown NIT.
And when Sunshine began to fly around and scrap and scuffle for every point in Game 2, the Thunder turned up the dial themselves, coming back from a 17-14 deficit to power ahead and claim the victory, 25-20, 25-21.
Jordan Iliff (a Missouri commit) gave Rockwood a great base to start with, punching kills and quality serves as her squad took a 17-12 lead in Game 1 that forced a Sunshine timeout. The California team responded with four straight points, but too many mistakes blunted the rally, and Rockwood swept it up with winners from Anna Taylor and Alexa Harris.
Sunshine definitely got inspired in Game 2, as Amanda Burns began to pound her way to multiple points, with Breonne Benoit also driving the offense. That's when Rockwood measured up in the moment, doing great work at the net to maintain a say-so in what was happening.
"We talked a lot about confidence, that was a big thing for our team. We had to play together more in that situation, and had what we needed to shake off (bad points) and play better," said Lana Gerard, who showed up in multiple moments, including kills that kept the score tied at 17-all and 18-all in the second set, along with a kill to make it 22-20 for the Thunder. "It did get a bit snug, but we went back to the basics and thought about, maintained that confidence. I'm the only new piece of the team this year, but I did play with them two years ago, and our chemistry is great.
"Our defense is the strongest part of our game, but our ability on offense to run a lot of different things with our lineup across the front is huge."
Which is where Iliff definitely factors in -- the rangy left-hander was difficult to slow on her serve, and she was there for many big swings, including a winner off an overpass to give Rockwood a big 24-21 lead in the final game.
"The biggest piece of our game is picking each other up. It got tight, Sunshine started playing scrappy, and I think we really had to come together and play as one instead of as individuals," Iliff said. "I am used to having the pressure and accountability on me, and I think it's something that drives how I play. That pushes me harder, for people who need me to play hard.
"I definitely think being left-handed is super cool. I'm very lucky, because not many people are. There are a lot of right-handed right sides, and that's not easy to do. I'm very lucky; it's not easy to block or defend, and that really helps my game."
"At the end of the day, we play an emotional roller coaster game sometimes, and the last couple weeks we've done a better job calming ourselves," said Rockwood coach Billy Rhodes. "We might be a little undersized, we are very explosive. We do a good job digging balls as well, and allowing the attackers to get good swings.
"Jordan brings a lot both on and off the court; she's working through the flu right now, so she's not feeling her best. But she's digging a bunch of balls, too, which is something she's worked hard on the last couple months, and definitely a go-to attacker."
By Adam Burns
KANSAS CITY, MO – The MAVS 18s weren’t about to let it happen again. A losing record after the first day of a massive tournament in its own backyard just doesn’t fly. Especially considering what they experienced last year.
The current MAVS 18s squad went 1-2 on Day 1 of the Triple Crown NIT last year. Fast forward to Saturday afternoon and the local squad found itself at an even 1-1 on the tourney headed into its final match against Legacy.
The MAVS, motivated to avoid a repeat of 2019, took care of business, handing Legacy a straight-set loss (25-19, 25-23) in the final R1 Power A pool play contest.
“It was huge for us,” MAVS setter Kendra Wait said. “We know how important seeding is for tomorrow, so we knew if we could go 2-1 we’d have a better chance tomorrow.”
MAVS coach Beau Barnthson agreed with Wait, a Creighton University commit.
“They came out and had a pretty rough first day last year, so the team goal this year was to bounce back and have a better first day,” said Barnthson, the head men’s coach at nearby NAIA Ottawa (Kansas) University.
“It was good to see that resilience so we can carry some of that momentum into Day 2,” Barnthson said.
Speaking of Day 2, the MAVS are poised to make a statement in bracket play. They are, of course, trying to defend their own turf.
“We feel as this is our house,” Wait said. “We’ve played multiple tournaments here already, so it’s important that we come out and play for our city to compete and do well.”
“You always feel that way when a tournament is in your backyard,” Barnthson said. “But tomorrow’s a new day. We approach every tournament like that.”
Regardless of location, the MAVS certainly like to avoid a repeat of last year.
“It was a good team win,” Barnthson said. “We did what we had to do to come out with a W.”
by Matthew Antonic
KANSAS CITY, MO -- The power behind Skye Stokes' hits was quite noticeable to the spectators gathered around Court 16 at the Kansas City Convention Center on Saturday afternoon. Her Mintonette teammates and coaches were used to it, but not her opponents from Coast, who were thrown completely out of sorts by it.
“We still don’t really know how she does it,” said Mintonette coach Ronny Mahlerwien. “She’s pretty magical. She puts a lot of power and energy into that ball every time. It definitely shows why she’s West Virginia’s Gatorade Player of the Year.”
Excellent team serving and Stokes’ power pushed Mintonette past Coast convincingly in straight sets, 25-17, 25-17, in 18 Elite action at the Triple Crown NIT. After dropping its first match of the tournament, Mintonette recorded back-to-back victories.
“I think it was energy,” said Boyle. “Our team relies on it.”
Mintonette certainly brought the energy, using a 7-1 run to win the first set in convincing fashion. This came after both teams were even almost the entire time, with Coast cutting the lead to as little as 18-16 before Mintonette finished the job.
“First set, I felt like we did a decent job controlling tempo on our side of the net,” Mahlerwien said. “What we did on our side really kind of put them out of system and out of sorts. The pressure from our serving, when we’re in control, it’s really good.”
Despite it not immediately showing on the scoreboard, Mintonette appeared in control for most of the second set. As Mahlerwien alluded to, his club was applying tons of pressure. Everyone was doing their part, and Stokes was becoming a nightmare to try to defend at the net.
“I guess because I’m really short, I just have to swing as hard as I can,” said the University of Michigan commit. “It’s just really what I do.”
Stokes and the serving of Scottee Johnson fueled another devastating run. Mintonette, leading 14-13, rattled off the next six points in a row, forcing multiple Coast timeouts.
“Scottee went on that run, our setter,” Mahlerwien said. “She’s got a mean float serve.”
Brown credited her teammates for their ability to stay focused on the current point. That ability allowed Mintonette to seize the momentum after a talented Coast squad continued to knock on the door.
“I’m confident in my teammates, too,” she said. “Whenever that happens, I’m just like, move on to the next one. You can’t dwell on past points.”
Mintonette has looked impressive all tournament, despite dropping the first match to Texas Advantage, one of the top teams in the field. Mahlerwien said the team moved past the loss quickly, just as it moves past a lost point quickly on the court as well.
“We occasionally have a slow start. Unfortunately our slow start was against the best team here,” he said. “We do a good job of kind of forgetting about the situation. We don’t really let things dwell and get in our heads, and we do a good job of always moving on to the next point.”
by Matt Antonic
KANSAS CITY, MO -- MadFrog coach Nicky Bramschreiber expects a lot out of her 14 Elite side, and for good reason.
"They train hard,” she said. “I expect them to be in the lead, and when we’re not, it’s not usually reflective of what the other team is doing, it’s what’s happening on our side.”
Her expectations were met Saturday morning, and then some. Her club took care of business against the Milwaukee Sting in straight sets (25-18, 25-13), winning the second set convincingly as power pool play continued at the 2020 Triple Crown NIT.
MadFrog never even needed a devastating run to put their opponent away. The lead just kept steadily growing.
“Once we get a point, we just try to stay on top of it,” Avery Jackson said, “and really try to get the next point to build the momentum.”
Jackson’s play was strong all match, a matchup nightmare that the Sting could not answer. Her effort was demonstrative of the energetic style of play MadFrog likes to leave on the court.
“We are a high-pursuit team,” Bramschreiber said. “If the ball is on the floor, there better be a body there. We talk about staying on their feet versus being on the floor, but just maximizing the effort.”
There were bodies flying everywhere Saturday for MadFrog, countering everything the Sting tried to gain the upper hand, to no avail. MadFrog consistently used mini-runs of two and three points whenever the Sting began to knock on the door.
As the points kept rolling in, MadFrog continued to communicate well with each other, an aspect the team has been working to improve in training and matches.
“We were talking a lot,” said Avery Baughman. “It feels really good to get the win.”
“I try to be the loudest on the court,” Jackson added. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Jackson was certainly one of the loudest on the court against the Sting, with both her play and communication to her teammates. MadFrog forced multiple timeouts by the Sting as the first set neared an finale, a sign that the team’s high-pursuit approach was troubling its opponent.
While the win was satisfying, Bramschreiber still believes there is room for improvement in communication, a jump she would like to see made over the course of the NIT this weekend.
“I’ve seen games where they’ve done a better job of communicating," she said. "It’s hard to get girls to talk consistently. Having them understand the value of constant communication, that then should be exhausted when they come off the floor. If the only thing they do is talk the whole time, we’re really trying to get them to do that, the younger age groups.”
by Adam Burns
KANSAS CITY Mo. – Seventeen ties and 15 lead changes. A thrilling way to start a competitive pool play match to say the least.
The WAVE 14s earned a hard-fought three-set victory over A5 Mizuno (29-27, 21-25, 15-8) Saturday morning to move to 2-0 at the time in the R1 Power A pool of the Triple Crown National Invitational Tournament at the Kansas City Convention Center.
The Southern California-based WAVE were on the brink of a first set loss before it bounced back from three game points to take the opener.
“It was exhausting for everybody,” WAVE coach Chris Quinn said. “It was amazing. I'm super proud of the way we battled. To have that grit to pull it out is just such a confidence builder.”
WAVE’s Ivanna Rivera said it was crucial for her squad to win set No. 1.
"It's always good to start out strong, to give you momentum to keep going,” she said. “You have to keep that energy to keep winning each point.”
After a second set loss, the WAVE squad jumped out to a 6-2 lead on its way to a 15-8 match-clinching set No. 3 win. That momentum continued with a straight-set win over Madfrog (25-19, 25-17), succeeding an undefeated 3-0 start to the tournament.
Coach Quinn was happy about the marathon win against A5 Mizuno, an established top program out of Atlanta, but he was more pleased about his squad’s effort.
"I don't think winning it was as important as the way we won it,” he said. “To play some really good teams and to win a close one, it feels amazing. It proves to them that they can beat anyone on any court.”
Meanwhile, A5 Mizuno was forced to reset after the mid-day thriller. But A5 Mizuno coach Helen Lin said facing such strong competition so early is only going to benefit her team moving forward.
“This is the best team we've played,” Lin said. “They're very scrappy. We didn't start very strong and gave them seven serves. Too many errors but it was really good for us. It’ll definitely push us to get better much sooner. If you don't see this (competition) this soon, we will not better quick enough.”
Rivera provided likely the most applicable comment anyone can give after the second match of a long TC NIT weekend.
“It feels pretty good,” she said. “but the job’s not finished.”
by Thomas Hoffman
Head coach Todd Kolkhorst could not have dreamt of a better way to kick off the 2020 Triple Crown Volleyball NIT. His 16u Elite Houston Skyline squad will walk into Sunday a perfect 3-0 behind wins over Arizona Storm Thunder, 1st Alliance Silver and an impressive 2-0 (25-21, 25-22) victory over Mizuno Long Beach Rockstar.
“I’m so proud of them,” said Kolkhorst. “We have a few injuries and some people are playing positions they’re not used to. It’s super cool to see them step up and produce at this awesome tournament with all these great teams.”
Skyline came ready to play in the opening set, racing out to an early lead and protecting it throughout.
“They’ve been working a lot in the gym,” Kolkhorst explained. “They came out and played at a very high level and with a lot of maturity.”
Leading the way for Skyline was outside hitter and defensive specialist Alexis Dacosta. Dacosta tallied three kills and an ace in the first set alone. Her stellar effort had only just begun.
“I was feeling really good in warmups,” Dacosta said. “I was really excited because our lineup is different and I was confident to show them what we got, even with the people we have injured.”
Despite a 4-0 run late in the set, Houston held strong with a 25-21 effort.
Long Beach wasn’t quite ready to let Skyline out of the woods just yet. Multiple scoring runs to open the second set and a seven-kill performance from Adonia Faumuina nearly forced a decisive third.
Enter Alexis Dacosta.
The Katy Texas native notched eight kills in the second stanza alone. Along with three kills each from Logan Lednicky and Bailey Hanner, the trio pulled Houston out of the depths and back into the lead.
“We might have let them get on a bit of a run but we didn’t let that get to our heads,” Dacosta said. “We came back and showed them who we are and that we’re Houston Skyline.”
“It comes from the confidence they have in playing with each other,” said Kolkhorst. “They can let three or four points go but they know if they just get one more ball, they can side out.
“They’re going to make errors physically but mentally they were at an eight or a nine today which was really cool to see.”
In total, Dacosta finished with 11 kills and an ace as Houston Skyline will earn one of the top seeds in Power Pool A.
“She’s just doing what she does,” Kolkhorst said. “She can side out from anywhere on the court. She can dig. She can pass. She serves aggressive. She’s our little lethal weapon. I’m not surprised because that’s the kind of player that she always is.”
While pleased with the torrid start, Kolkhorst and Skyline know that their work is far from over this weekend.
“Anybody can beat anybody,” said Kolkhorst. “If we lose tomorrow morning, all the wins today don’t matter. It was cool to come out 3-0 today but tomorrow we’re back to 0-0.”
Dacosta and the players know that success tomorrow is just a matter of being true to themselves.
“Of course, we play to win, but we also play to have fun,” explained Dacosta. “We went out there confident today and we need to do it again tomorrow.”
by Kyle Koso
KANSAS CITY, MO -- Having a feeling of relative comfort certainly agreed with the 1st Alliance 16 Silver Elite squad on Saturday, building a lead in its final match of the day after dropping two three-set matches earlier at the Triple Crown NIT.
However, there's never anything easy about the power pools at the TC NIT, and sure enough, 1st Alliance (IL) soon saw OT Roberto (FL) fire up and make it interesting in Game 1. Properly reawakened, 1st Alliance fought off the lulls and went on to post a 25-23, 25-18 victory and get on the right side of the scoreboard after losses to Premier Nebraska and Skyline Royal.
"You saw us start to lay back, like when it got to 16-10, so we maybe took our foot off the gas. We had to come together and realize, no team is just going to give up and let you win," said Katie Hurta, who handled chores at setter with skill and added two critical kills late in Game 1. "You just have to push it to the end. We all believe in each other; whoever says get me the ball, we know they can put it down. Having that trust has made us super balanced."
"When you keep your energy up and keep encouraging your team, you'll do great. That energy being up and playing well are directly proportional," said outside hitter Chelsea Thorpe, who had a set of back-to-back kills and an ace as 1st Alliance jumped ahead early. "You play well, and that energy will go up. It feels great that you can rely on the team; it's even better knowing a teammate got the kill rather than you. You play as a team."
After falling behind 19-13 in Game 1, OT Roberto stopped spraying shots out of play. A running kill shot from Amaya Thomas drew OT within 22-20, and back-to-back smoldering kills by Mya Wood made it just 23-22 for 1st Alliance. Hurta got those last two kills to secure it.
Game 2 started in the same vein, but OT got it tied again at 9-all. Between some service errors and shots that missed their mark, OT fell behind again as a Hurta kill made it 19-11. A winner from Jordan Walker had 1st Alliance up 22-14, enough of a margin that a few late mistakes didn't sway the outcome.
"The team took a step back and let down early. You could see the intensity drop," said 1st Alliance coach Beth Baetzel. "This is only the second tournament this team has played together; we have four new kids, new setter and new middle. We're just trying to get the pieces together; we have a really high ceiling.
"We may take some lumps at the beginning of the season, but with the athleticism, this is a really good group. We'll get better, and we're looking to be the best in April, May, June."