by Cody Thorn
Despite not having a full, healthy roster, MadFrog 15s National Green prevailed in 15 Elite championship match on Monday.
The Plano, Texas-based program won 2-1 over Premier Nebraska 15 Gold in the title game at the Triple Crown National Invitational Tournament at the Kansas City Convention Center in Kansas City.
MadFrog lost the first set 25-23 to the squad from Omaha but then won the next two, 25-20 and 15-13. The game winning point came from a hit by Avery Jackson, which fell in the middle of the court after hitting the top of the net.
“Just seeing it drop was really nice,” Jackson said. “I was just trying to get it over and hit it as hard as I could so we could finish it. It was a good feeling. We have been battling all weekend and we have done so, so it was good to finish it. The word of the weekend was resilient, so I’m glad we pushed through and fought as a team.”
Added her coach Nikki Bramschrieber, “she went for it and I said swing to score and then it trickled over.”
MadFrog had to rally in the third after falling behind on miscues as four straight return errors gave Premier a 7-3 lead. Bramschrieber called a timeout to help regroup her squad and it worked a bit. MadFrog pulled within 7-6 within moments thanks to a serving error and kills from Regan Fitzsimmons and Lillian Croshaw.
“I tried to make them not feel the pressure,” Bramschrieber said. “It’s just volleyball. Just play. If they get a pass and we get a set, our first ball sideout is pretty good. I only worry when we can’t get multiple points. If we are serving, we are pretty hard to contend with.”
A service point from Talley Grissom allowed MadFrog to forge a 9-all tie in the deciding set. Back-to-back shots, with deflections going out of bounds, gave MadFrog the lead for good.
Croshaw had a block to make it 13-10, which led to a timeout by Premier coach Shannon Smolinski.
Premier pulled within a point twice, 13-12 and 14-13, the first on a combo block by Mia Tvrdy and Josie Clevergina and then on a service error by MadFrog.
Then, the match ended on Jackson’s shot – one where she just tried to get the ball over the net.
“We were resilient and we were pushing hard,” said Croshaw, who led the team with 12 kills. “We were not going to lose. We just kept pushing for every point.”
The match was the first for Premier on Monday that they lost in three sets. Earlier in the day, the Nebraskans beat A5 Volleyball Club Bob in three sets and then dispatched Adidas Dynasty Black in three sets in the semifinals.
The first set featured a back-and-forth contest that had nine ties through 22 points. The latest came at 11-11 but Premier rattled off three straight points to regain the lead getting an ace and then a kill by Lauren Medeck – who had a game-high 14 kills.
Premier never trailed from there, but MadFrog wouldn’t go away. Up 20-15, the lead dwindled to 21-20. MadFrog pulled within 22-21, 23-22, 24-23 but a kill by Tvrdy ended the first set.
MadFrog turned a 4-4 tie in the second set into a five-point lead, 11-6, after consecutive kills by Croshaw and Jackson – who just returned from five-week hiatus after a broken pinky suffered playing sand volleyball.
Premier got within a point, 16-15, following a block by Medeck but that was the closest score as MadFrog pulled away. MadFrog – 8-0 in the tournament – then took the first point of the final set on a combo block by Lainee Pyles and Akunna Cos-Okpalla.
Jackson had nine kills, while Fitzsimmons chipped in with seven. Jackson had a 2.48 passing percentage and added six digs, tied for second on the team with Avery Baughman. Fitzsimmons had seven digs, while Pyles led MadFrog with three blocks and two aces.
Carson Eickenloff led MadFrog with three assists, though the team is still reeling from the loss of setter Cate Hatfield. A knee injury last Saturday left her on crutches and the team trying to change the rotation and scheme ahead of a national tournament.
“It was difficult (to win) with a partial roster,” Bramschrieber said. “We are fighting a lot of injuries. We lost our setter. Avery just came out of her cast and our other right side was out for almost six weeks. Our goal was to come here and not be injured any further. We like to come here in February and compete, and I wish we’d been here in February. We’d been fully stocked by then. But this ended up being a warm-up for nationals. If we can win with what we got, the majority are USA teams, we have a good shot at being a medalist in (Las) Vegas.”
by Matt Antonic
The Arizona Storm made it clear on Monday they were capable of putting mistakes behind them. The majority of their first set against Club MadFrog in the 14 Elite championship match of the Triple Crown NIT was certainly a stretch they would like to forget.
The script was flipped in the second set. The Storm jumped out to an almost unbelievable 15-2 lead enroute to winning 25-12. The deciding set would test Arizona’s athleticism and MadFrog’s toughness at the net.
A bonafide thriller ensued. MadFrog nearly erased a 6-1 lead, pulling within one on an emphatic block at the net by middle blocker Olivia Wayne. The scoreboard read 14-13 in favor of Arizona when a Storm-hit ball appeared to be heading out. A whistle came from the referee tower, signaling a tipped ball by the ever so closest of margins. Game over.
Good news for a team that has endured, by coach Cari Bauer’s own analysis, a very difficult past year. Only last week were the Storm able to compete in a qualifier. The rise to the top of the division at the NIT and final championship victory (20-25, 25-12, 15-12) were nothing short of remarkable.
“It’s been a great three days for us,” she said. “This is always a great tournament with lots of tough competition.”
The stellar performance in the second and third sets was in direct contrast to a tough first set that saw the Storm struggle to gain their footing. MadFrog’s aggressive approach was causing all sorts of problems.
“We made some unforced errors,” Bauer said. “I feel like the kids were a little bit nervous. We needed to get more disciplined.”
The Storm toughened up on the block, which Bauer credited as a huge help to defenders. The team’s athleticism was then put on full display. Arizona recorded countless impressive plays, including several agile digs initiated by impressive dives.
The postgame buzz near the presentation stage from the Storm contingent was palpable, and for good reason. The club has been forced away from the competitive arena for months on end, and now finds itself crowned champions of the NIT.
Storm outside hitter Teraya Sigler said the team knows how painful coming so close only to fall can be. The motivation to finish the job in full was apparent in the player’s intensity.
“We know what second place is like,” she said. “We know what it’s like to have that heartbreak, and that was kind of the drive. We wanted it and we went after it.”
Some of the most impressive athletic plays of the match came from libero Izzy Mahaffey, who spent all game saving points for the Storm with vital defense. Mahaffey said her work ethic was just one piece that helped the whole team function well, and that good plays fed confidence.
“The energy was palpable,” she said. “We really felt the momentum shift in the second set.”
The club’s unity was obvious, and Mahaffey demonstrated as such when she echoed Sigler’s thoughts on what pushed the Storm over the top to victory.
“It sucks getting second,” she said. “We were really pushing ourselves and it was an amazing experience.”
by Matt Antonic
As flipping of the scripts go, the 13u Club MKE Sting will have quite the story to tell. Facing the KC Dynasty on Sunday, the Sting were fighting, but were being outplayed.
Having already dropped the first set and trailing 23-20 in the second, coach Kristin Perkins called timeout. The team needed something to change, and needed to do it quickly. The Sting decided to shift strategy, moving the focus on the Dynasty in an attempt to throw them off their game.
The result was stunning. The Sting mounted a comeback, unleashing a 6-1 run to win the second set, sending the match into a deciding third set. This time, it was no competition. The Sting scored the first five points of the set and never looked back, winning the set 15-6 and the match (19-25, 26-24, 15-6) at the Triple Crown NIT in Kansas City.
The shifts came directly out of the timeouts, with a renewed sense of energy and focus as soon as the players broke the huddle. It was the successful execution of strategy, Perkins said, that pushed the team over the hill.
“We focused on their side of the court and not our side of the court,” she said. “We made adjustments from our defensive side."
The Sting were successfully able to force the Dynasty into making mistakes, opening a window for a comeback win. It wasn’t enough to just play good defense, however. The team needed to executive its offensive opportunities, and did so to Perkins’ liking.
“Our serve-receive and our serving game totally transitioned that game to our side of the court offensively so we could have momentum,” she added.
The Sting were boosted by an incredibly raucous group of travelling fans, enhanced by the permeable energy coming from the bench. The match was played on the less crowded South end of the Kansas City Convention Center. The noise and energy from the crowd become much more noticeable than matches played in crowded settings, where the noise from court-to-court can morph into a loud buzz that lasts all day.
Sting player Holly Hawthorne said the boost contributed to the team turning things around. “I think we finally were able to pick up our energy and realize that every team is beatable,” she said. “We can fight and win even when we’re down.”
The chemistry and communication between Sting players was on full display. Players on the bench contributed to the energy with a variety of cheers and chants. Hawthorne said it’s the result of the team being together for years.
“Over time, I think we were able to bond and get to know each other more and trust each other more,” she said. “That way we can go out on the floor and know that we are going to be there for each other.”
The Sting will take their best swings again Monday in the 13u bracket, facing a local team, either MAVS or Dynasty at 9:30 a.m.
Perkins said she is excited for the opportunity. Before the team broke the huddle and departed, she reinforced the messages she gives at practice about putting in work. “What we talk about is that we don’t look for anyone else to go for a ball except ourselves. The balls around us we’re going to go and give 110 percent.”
by Matt Antonic
Kennedy Wagner with 1st Alliance (Chicago) says her club takes a very positive approach whenever someone makes a mistake. There’s no yelling or screaming, no “come ons” or even a “shake it off.”
“Whenever we make a mistake, we say ‘you got it,’ because we really feel like that brings you up,” she said.
The Alliance had just made a handful of mistakes to allow Club Elevation right back into the second set Sunday in 16 Elite bracket action at the Triple Crown NIT. A 19-15 lead had suddenly been whittled down to one, leading to a timeout. The Alliance’s positive and disciplined approach paid off when they broke the huddle, as the team finished off the Elevation to win in straight sets (25-18, 25-22) at the Kansas City Convention Center.
In both sets, the Alliance dominated for stretches, but slip-ups allowed Elevation to continue to see daylight. The first set saw a five-point lead disappear in the blink of an eye. But as Wagner said, the club’s positive reinforcement allowed it to regroup with ease, closing out each set with dominance. It was 16-16 in the first set before a timeout. A 9-2 run followed to end it.
It was 22-21 in the second set; Alliance didn’t let Elevation score again. Wagner said the result was just a glimpse of the team’s hard work that has begun to pay incredible dividends. Due to Illinois COVID restrictions, the club was not able to be together or compete for lengthy amounts of time. When they did return to the gym, Wagner said the team’s work rate was higher than ever.
“We worked our butts off in practice,” she said. “We had three hour sessions, and we tried to be the team we are now. All those practices are showing off now.”
Coach Trish Samolinski agreed, adding that the team’s main focus has been efficiency. Specifically, efficiency at the end of sets. That strategy was on full display as the team came out of timeouts at the end of both sets and executed well.
“Especially the last five plays of the game, we’re really focusing on being pretty flawless,” she said. “I thought the girls executed really well when they got to playing.”
Among other displays shown by 1st Alliance were the variety of hustle plays that fired up both players and the band of travelling fans. The team saved points on several occasions by keeping seemingly lost balls in play, forcing the Elevation into mistakes.
“Without us making mistakes, it helps us achieve what we want to do,” Samolinski said. “We did things like move our servers around, and that moves the passes around and gets them out of system.”
“Gritty” was the word Samolinski used to describe her group and the effort they displayed. The team’s effort was even buoyed by players from teams in the club’s younger age group coming by the court to lend support.
“They’re a pretty group of kids. They know even if they’re down, they have the grit and intensity to fight back, and that’s going to win us games,” Samolinski added.
by Cody Thorn
Legacy 16-1 Adidas and Houston Juniors Volleyball 16 Elite ran across each other in a tournament earlier this season in Orlando.
The Michigan-based Legacy program won two sets to take that showdown, but a rematch happened Sunday morning at the Kansas City Convention Center at the Triple Crown National Invitational Tournament.
The outcome didn’t change in the new locale as Legacy won, but needed three sets to dispatch the Texans this time around.
HJV and Legacy played a close first set in Orlando before Legacy rolled in the second set. The scenario the second time was similar, but this time the Houston Juniors took the opening set, 25-23.
Legacy rolled to a win in the second set, 25-12 and rallied to win the third, 15-12. They will take on 1st Alliance on Monday in the 16 Elite quarterfinals.
“That third set, I will tell you, we have two good defensive specialists and they were able to put a good touch on passes and Harper (Murray) was able to put the ball down,” Legacy coach Rick Cottrill said.
The Houston Juniors jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the decisive third set, which included an ace by Sydney Jordan and then a combo block by Arissa Smith and Ariel Francis.
Cottrill called a timeout to regroup Legacy, but the Houston team kept scoring points. Jordan had a dig that went across the court and fell in by the post and then Mary-Katherine Preston had a kill, which made it 8-4.
Legacy rallied to tie it at 8-8 and later at 9-9 and 10-10. The lead switched for the final time at 11-10 and grew to 14-10. Four of the five points in that stretch were kills by Murray, who finished with 21.
“I think we have really good leadership in her and we all rally around her,” said teammate Sarah Vellucci of Murray.
The Houston Juniors cut the deficit to 14-12 on a block by Preston but the game ended on a return error.
“I’m really proud of them for coming back after being down 7-3 and 8-4 in the third set,” Cottrill said. “We wanted to be able to defend our serve-receive better. We didn’t do that well in the first set. We were able to defend the serve well and we did what we were capable of doing.”
Murray had six of her 21 kills in the third set, more than the combined total of the Houston Juniors in that set.
“We did a really good job of coming to the middle and passing,” said Murray, a 6-foot-1 outside hitter that is uncommitted.
The Houston Juniors built a five-point advantage in the first set, 12-7, but saw Legacy rally and eventually take a 19-18 lead on a kill by Murray. Cindy Tchouangwa responded with a kill to tie the game and Smith followed with another to make it 21-20. A block by Murray and a kill that sailed out of bounds by Houston gave its final lead, though the game would be tied at 22-22 and 23-23.
A kill by 6-foot-2 Piper Stephenson gave the Houston Juniors the lead for good in the opening set.
“They are hard to stop when they pass the ball well and we couldn’t stop them,” Cottrill said.
Legacy raced out to a 7-2 to lead in the second set and had control throughout, pushing the advantage to as high as 11 points three different times and expanded to 14 points behind an ace by Abby Reck and a block by Laurece Abraham.
The Houston Juniors rallied late with three straight points after that but only trimmed the margin to 24-12 before an error ended the second set.