by Cody Thorn
The opening of the Triple Crown National Invitational Tournament was a humbling one for the Premier Nebraska 12 Gold team.
The Omaha-based squad went 0-3 on Saturday at the Kansas City Convention Center but looked better overall Sunday, posting a 2-1 mark in the 12U division.
Premier lost its opener on Sunday, 25-7 and 25-20 to KC Power 12-1, but then won the next two and finished fourth in the pool.
“I think what brought us together was when we get one win, we’d have a huge winning streak,” said Kam Bails, who wears No. 5 for the team. “It is crazy when, it would be like ‘hey, we won this; might as well win the next one.’ The confidence was huge.”
Premier got in the win column by beating Iowa Select 12 Mizuno 25-18 and 25-19. Then the Gold added another win over MAVS KC 12-1 in two sets.
The first set was close but the Nebraskans pulled away to win 25-22. The competitiveness carried over for both teams in the second set.
Early on, Premier held a 6-4 lead before going ahead, 12-5. Mavs KC got two points in a row to cut the deficit down to 12-7. Then the game-defining run happened, which included a pair of kills from Bails and an ace by Averi Scardina.
The next time MAVS KC scored – on a service error – Premier held a 22-8 lead.
“In the beginning of the game we talked in the circle and said what we need to do to win the set and win the game,” said Premier’s Aubree Fettin, who dons uniform No. 4. “The sideline helps with the energy.”
The Kansas City-area team made a mini-run late, scoring six points in a row to pull within 22-13. After a sideout, Premier ended the game by scoring the next two points. With Taylor Ann McLeay serving, a return volley hit the net and ended the second set.
MAVS KC, based out of Lenexa, Kansas, finished the day 0-3 with losses to Madfrogs 12s N Green and Dynasty Black 12 as well. Those are two of the three undefeated teams in the pool on Sunday, the other was the Texas Pistols 12 Black.
Premier coach John Castle was pleased with how his team responded to the adversity of a 0-4 start in the tournament.
“Yesterday was a good learning opportunity,” said the coach, who has brought a team down Interstate 29 for the past three tournaments. “We faced some awesome teams that showed us things that we improved on today. That is what we did; we came out and applied those things and had a mindset, or a theme, of bring it. We talked individually yesterday about what we will bring today. I asked are we better together? And of course we are. We just need to bring it individually and we will get better together.”
by Kyle Koso
When a team is properly focused on the big picture, a few smears and ink spills really don’t matter that much.
Coping with occasional setbacks served the OTVA 14 Elite team well on Sunday at the Triple Crown NIT, as the squad from Florida earned a spot in the 14 Elite semifinals with a 25-21, 25-22 victory over Houston Skyline. OTVA will face Arizona Storm Thunder at 7:30 on Monday for a berth in the championship match.
The first and foremost threat to OTVA’s fortunes came in the first set, when a (hotly contested) rotation error, a Skyline ace and another kill shot cut the lead to 17-15. Things felt wobbly for a few minutes, but two well-placed tip shots from Izzy Mogridge and Lily Hayes closed out the set and allowed OTVA to regain its footing.
“We’ve learned to push past those moments. It’s going to happen, and we can’t let that get to us,” said Hayes, who ended the match with a thumping kill shot. “We come back and fight, get the momentum back so we can play like we did. The first day of the tournament was really iffy for us (going 1-2 overall). We came out today and showed teams what we really are.”
The second set was more back-and-forth, with Houston Skyline muscling up on kills from Bailey Warren and Bayleigh Minor and taking their first lead of the match at 10-9. A kill from Bella Pereira pushed OTVA back up 14-11, but Skyline countered and held a 21-18 lead as tension began to mount.
After a timeout, OTVA scored six straight points, getting some dynamite serves from libero Myah Typrowicz, and Kaylee Peper did some hard work on the block as well to help secure the win.
“The Kansas City tournament helps me and the team prepare for JO’s and AAU, which is our big thing,” said Mogridge, who flashed skill and touch at every position on the floor. “The energy is so great on the court, and I love controlling the court and the flow … that’s so good. We were able to slow down and focus on one serve-receive pass, and it goes from there.”
OTVA head coach Laura Stegenga said her team sometimes goes quite when adversity starts to mount, but Sunday showed her roster looking comfortable in urging each other onward. There’s certainly enough muscle and speed to make OTVA a threat Monday as well.
“It’s important for our girls to have a lot of communication when things aren’t going well. If you allow negative things to accumulate, that’s what kills you,” she said. “They had to keep their head up and focus on the next play, which is something they are learning. I’m not a fan of one player being set the ball every single time. Skyline had bigger girls than us, so we had to all stay involved to break up the block and give our outsides more of a look.”
by Kyle Koso
There’s not a ton of mystery to the approach of the Tri-State Elite 17’s volleyball squad – get the offensive menace cooking with hitters Tessa Jones, Lucy Trump and Maggie Bugkovitch and see if anyone can put up resistance.
Late Saturday in 17 Elite power pool action at the Triple Crown NIT, Tri-State deployed the plan but found the Premier Nebraska 17 Gold was more than ready for the challenge. The first two sets featured heavy hustle and wild momentum swings, and Tri-State managed the critical late moments best in a 13-25, 25-13, 16-14 victory.
Premier Nebraska broke open the first set, fueled by the all-court skill set of Sadie Millard and solid swings by Maddie MacTaggart. Tri-State came out of the huddle more than agitated that they hadn’t executed very well, and that’s when the offense turned fearsome.
“We knew we were better than what we were putting out there. We told the girls to stay confident, keep their heads up, and we would perform better,” said Tri-State head coach Kevin Lucas. “Nebraska’s defense, we hadn’t really seen that level all year, and we had to but into playing some really long points. They keep everything up in the air, so we had to get to the right mentality the second and third set.”
Trump terminated multiple points early in the second set as Tri-State took an 8-0 lead; two straight kills from Jones and a service ace made it 18-10 for the right amount of breathing room. Tri-State’s hitters were not only powerful, but very agile, allowing the lineup to reset over and over on long points to give them the best chance against Premier’s defense.
“We play a lot of 18’s in power leagues, and we lose most of those, but we have this communication and bond. It’s helps us grow, and we can pull out these types of matches,” said Trump, a Notre Dame signee. “My grandpa played volleyball at Ball State, back in the day, he’s really big on your vertical. I’ve been working on that my whole life, and my whole family, too. Through training I’ve been able to get faster, and that’s helped a lot because I’m a little undersized for my position.
“We don’t see a lot of these teams in tournaments, playing JVA, but we know how great they are. We came in knowing we’d have to work our butts off to play at a high level. I know I can look to my left and know, that person is going to get the ball.”
The third set’s first highlight came from Tri-State’s Gracie Reisman, who had a kick-save on a ball that kept it from falling before converting on a tip for the point. Her team took a 9-6 lead; there was a mix of service errors and errant shots, and a Reisman kill made it 14-13. At 14-14, Trump dropped in a nice placement for a huge point, and Jones finished it with a kill.
“I find it fun, I love to score, and even if I get blocked a couple times I tell my setter, you got to set me again. I want to score and help get us on a run,” said Jones, who will play at Ole Miss when she graduates next year. “If I get the point, maybe it will lift the spirits of somebody else on the team. I’m usually smiling when I’m playing; it gives me a ton of adrenalin and I’m happy to be on the court.
“We were tired, looked like we weren’t awake (early). This is a good start, and I think we have a good chance of winning it all.”
“This is one of the best regular season Tri-State teams we’ve had; only lost twice against 17s,” Lucas said. “We’ve won some tournaments and know we are a good team, and excited to prove it out here.”
by Matt Antonic
Two victories in successive sets vaulted Texas Advantage 16 Elite over Club Sunshine on Saturday, sets with two distinctly different levels of competitiveness.
If a spectator only caught the first set, a 25-18 victory that saw TAV race out to a 13-3 lead, they might assume the entire match was one-sided.
However, Sunshine, buoyed by a spirited cheering section, had no intention of going so quietly. Sunshine fought tooth and nail in the second set, even being within a point of victory, but was simply out-executed at the end by TAV to fall in straight sets (25-18, 26-24) at the TC NIT in Kansas City.
There was no question that both teams wanted it. There was also no question about which team was more fundamentally sound. TAV stayed in its system from the get go and was particularly dominant in the first set, leading by double digits for a majority of the time. Sunshine made a late push, spurred on by remarkable energy between team and fans, but it was too little too late.
“It starts in the training gym,” TAV coach Carlos Ramos said. “We go day in and day out. We work hard and we go after balls.”
The strong and relentless work ethic was visible during the first set, but a nail-biting second set brought out a hint of ruthlessness in Ramos’ squad. TAV was successfully able to force Sunshine into mistakes. Ramos attributed the success to his players being able to thrive in chaos.
“We do a lot of drills of chaotic situations, and it translates to those moments. The resilience those girls had to win the game was beautiful,” he said.
Ramos used the word resilience twice, and for good reason. The Sunshine had just scored back-to-back points to take a 24-22 lead, putting the set on ice. It was time to apply training from chaotic situations in practice to the game. TAV didn’t flinch. Four consecutive points later and TAV had a victory, winning the set 26-24 allowing it to remain atop Power Pool B at 16 Elite with three wins and zero losses.
Ramos said the team knew the options Sunshine was going to deploy coming out of the timeout down 24-22. After talking to his team, it was all up to his players to successfully execute a comeback, and execute the did.
“We didn’t used to be able to do that,” TAV's Kyndal Stowers said on the comeback win. “Anytime we were down, we were down the whole game. The fact that we were down against a good team and came back was awesome.”
There was a certain sense of maturity and composure one could sense from TAV. The noise of the Kansas City Convention Center and the moment itself did not seem cause for great concern.
“We didn’t freak out,” Stowers said. “We kept our composure and played as hard as we could.”
by Matt Antonic
It was a hyper-competitive match that was defined by stunningly long rallies by both sides. So it was only fitting that Club Northern Lights would use one to clinch the second set and the match over the KC Mavs on Saturday (26-24, 28-26).
The exciting back and forth sequence had coaches shouting, teammates clamoring and spectators screeching during 16 Elite power pool action at the Triple Crown NIT in Kansas City. For a Northern Lights squad that led for a majority of both sets, the win felt deserved. The team’s efforts to execute under pressure had paid off.
“We’ve been working on our team composure,” Northern Lights coach Adam Beamer said. “We’ve been working on, in our timeouts, remaining calm and getting our heart rates down and going down and doing the things we need to do.”
After an early morning loss to Texas Advantage was followed by a bounce back victory over Club Sunshine, Northern Lights needed to take care of business over the hometown KC Mavs to finish pool play on a high note.
“We were kind of able to pick up whatever came our way,” Northern Lights player Stella Swenson said. “We were calm and collected."
Northern Lights was successful at causing the Mavs to make fundamental mistakes, but both teams proved adept at keeping the ball in play, leading to incredible rally sequences. Both sets saw the scored tied at 24, only for Northern Lights to seal the deal, displaying a remarkable killer instinct in the process.
In the second set, four separate match point opportunities presented themselves. With the scoreboard reading 27-26, Northern Lights thrived under pressure once again and won the longest rally of the match.
For Beamer, the victories on Saturday felt like sweet justice. His club had been stricken by a COVID outbreak after the Show-Me qualifiers back in April. Beamer himself spent 12 days battling a high fever. When his club showed up to Omaha two weeks ago to compete, “we were shot,” he said.
“It’s been a lot of work just trying to get back.”
The resilience on display Saturday wasn’t surprising to Beamer. His club had already dealt with the difficulties of not being able to be together, to have to meet over Zoom and go weekend after weekend with no competition.
After the struggles in previous qualifiers, Beamer said he was honest with his team.
“I just tried to convince them that we aren’t back to where we think we are or want to be,” he said. “COVID took its toll. It was good to come back, two weeks later, and be able to play with more energy in the style of some of these other teams.”
With the nail-biting win, Northern Lights cements the momentum it had been building heading into Sunday. Swenson said team chemistry was a major factor in the victory, and that it gives the players belief that they can keep winning.
“It’s been great so far,” she said. “It’s been great competition for our team.”