Hotly contested points, no overwhelming swings of momentum, each team looking more than capable of holding up under the stress – not much separated the Believe 17’s from the San Luis Valley 17’s on Sunday.
That meant the Gold Division championship at the Bighorn Bash (part of Triple Crown’s Colorado Tournament Series) would test the depth of each roster, and the Believe 17’s had multiple athletes in proper position for the big points, sending the team to a 25-23, 24-26, 15-8 victory at the NORCO courts in Loveland.
The teams went three sets as well on Saturday to kick off the tourney (Believe won that one, 19-25, 25-20, 15-8), with Sunday’s final turning on kills from Nicole Sparks, Renee Sobania, Bella Tedrow and Avery Smith in the third set to build an 8-6 lead up to 14-8. The finishing blow was a scorched serve by Sobania that deflected hard to the right for an ace.
One other thing the full Believe roster did well was stick together during its one genuine moment of struggle, when a cluster of errors sent San Luis up, 21-16, in the second set. A couple of timeouts helped Believe (from Greenwood Village, CO) actually tie it back up at 22-all and 24-all, before San Luis secured the set on an ace from Sydney Jackson.
“We were talking about putting the pressure back on them and executing our game plan,” said Believe coach Makenzi Langer. “Back in that game, (San Luis) was playing it more safe, setting it over the net instead of attacking, and I kept telling our kids, if you go for it, I’m not going to be upset. You will see those errors, but we rallied back – nothing changes, stick to the game plan.”
“We try to focus on one point at a time, not to think we are out of this,” said Smith, a junior at Chaparral High School. “We chip away slowly. We really wanted to win; we were focused on our jobs and doing what we’ve known to do this entire season. It’s what we trained for.”
San Luis (Alamosa, CO) had a 22-20 lead in the first set, but it slipped away on a couple late slip-ups despite several great swings throughout the set by Jackson. A nice block from Charley Higham gave San Luis a 20-16 lead in Set 2, and an ace from setter Morgan Ortega pushed the lead to five points.
Sobania, a junior at Regis Jesuit, is one of several undersized hitters for Believe, but her persistence was rewarded with important points throughout, with a big kill to make it 11-6 in the third set.
“We stay positive and encourage each other,” she said. “Everyone is very supportive. Forget about it, move on, next ball. I can get frustrated sometimes, so it’s awesome to have such a supportive team.
“One thing Believe teaches, is how to hit with shot selection. I can hit a lot of different types of shots, and that’s why this is one of my favorite places I’ve played at. It’s helped me be successful.”
“Timing helps; we work with the setters a lot in practice to get that timing down, and I’ve been working on my vertical,” Smith added. “But we do focus on being a defensive and rallying team, since we know we aren’t super tall, and that’s how we come out on top a lot of times.”
Langer saluted her team’s depth and willingness to stay aggressive even as they tackle different positions and arguably don’t get to settle into specific roles, like most teams.
“We don’t have a true middle, we have one kid, a 15-year-old there, and a setter who jumps in there sometimes,” Langer said. “We have attackers who can hit on the outside, in the middle, on the right, and run all these different routes. It puts pressure on teams; as well as being great defensively and in serve-receive, we out-rally teams all the time.”
In the Pikes Peak Division, NORCO’s 14-2 took first place, with the NORCO 13-1 team winning the Longs Peak Division. The San Luis VBC 14’s won the Horsetooth Division.
COLORADO TOURNAMENT SERIES – This event wrapped up the four-tournament schedule for the CTS, introduced to the regional volleyball market as a way to help clubs evolve the talent on their rosters backed by Triple Crown’s insight and expertise in event production.
From the 175 teams that played in 2022, more than 1,000 athletes suited up for matches at the NORCO facility.
“Getting this tournament series up and off the ground was a labor of love. This was my first time event directing, and I didn’t get everything right but was lucky to be surrounded with great support from my division,” said CTS director Sarah Dannettell. “The relationships I gained with clubs and directors that supported CTS have been incredible. Seeing familiar smiling faces of coaches and players in this last one who were truly excited to be playing in a Triple Crown event made all the work and effort worth it.
“I got the opportunity to watch a match between a 13’s team and a 14’s team this past weekend where the final score was 32-30. The joy and excitement that the teams and parents had during the nailbiter gave me full body chills … giving all caliber of players the opportunity to have those types of memories.”
The President’s Day Summit tournament from the Colorado Tournament Series saw the FUNdamentals Volleyball Club Mystics 17’s take first place in the Gold Division. After back-to-back fifth-place finishes in the first two CTS tournaments, the Mystics won seven of eight matches, topping Northeastern Volleyball in three sets (25-21, 24-26, 15-11) for the overall championship.
Key stats from the tournament:
Kyla Adams – 16 aces
Ainsley Lynett – seven aces
Lauren Stanga – top hitting percentage at .31
Kendall Morrison – .29 hitting percentage
Team leaders in digs were Kyla Adams, Bella Kith and Lily Kunselman. The Mystics (based out of Littleton, CO) have nine players on the roster, including four 15-year-olds, and four 16-year-olds. Head coach and club director is Kendra Adams; assistant coaches are Heather Kunselman and Karen Stanga.
“Our team isn't one of the tallest out there, but our strong defense and our commitment to playing smarter helps us win more matches even against taller teams. The biggest advantage we have over other teams is our team chemistry,” said Kendra Adams. “We are a family who cares deeply for each other's well-being and values our team success more than our own personal successes. I love coaching these incredible, smart, kind, young ladies. Winning the tournament meant so very much to the players and coaches. We got close in the past two tournaments, so it was so fantastic to finally bring home the gold.”
The Mystics 16u team has played in all three CTS events as well. At the December Havoc tourney, they took second in the Longs Peak division; they placed first in the Horsetooth division in January and then took second in the Pikes Peak division at the February event. Head coach is Karen Stanga, assisted by Heather Kunselman and Kendra Adams.
Key performances from February:
Aliyah McDonald – 15 aces
Annemarie Stanga – 14 aces
Makenzie Green – .39 overall hitting percentage
Annemarie Stanga – .38 hitting percentage
Having just entered their teen years, players on the WyoCity Crushers 14 Blue volleyball team know there are many matches to come, and a million swings left to take.
However, that’s no reason to stand around and let opportunities go unexplored.
The Crushers (Casper, WY) approached Saturday’s action at the Triple Crown Mile High Madness tournament with an aggressive mindset, typically taking on older teams and showing plenty of fight despite any shortages in experience or physical size. They posted three wins on the day, the last one a resounding 25-14, 25-13 victory over ClubOne 16-2 to set the table for a Sunday run in the Division 2 Pikes Peak bracket.
Other results for the Crushers on Saturday included a 25-7, 25-14 win over NORCO 13-2 and 25-14, 25-18 over ClubOne 15.
In the day’s finale, the Crushers muscled up in multiple positions, with Makieha Humphreys and Presley Pruitt swinging hard and with accuracy. Soryn Gold mixed in an ace and multiple kills along the way in a show of the roster’s depth, and Noa Hodgin also impressed, especially with a perfectly placed kill at the end of Set 2.
“We are very pleased. We are working hard, and there’s accountability here. They talk, communicate and never will give up,” said Crushers coach Anthony Gold. “Some of the aggressiveness is natural, and with that is, I want them to swing hard. When you get a good set, a kill is what you need to have, and if there’s a dig on it I tell them to switch it up, with a tip or to push it one side or the other. This is a good bunch of girls.”
Applying steady pressure worked great for the Crushers; ClubOne would try to bang their way back into the mix, but too many hitting errors made it impossible. The Crushers close the first set with a 10-2 run, and did the same in Set 2 with a burst of 11-3.
“It’s so great to be playing older teams and to be doing it at this level; it can be intimidating because we are a really short team,” Humphreys said. “If I see a block at the net, I try to swing through their hands, and just try to rip it through on a normal hit.”
“Whenever I get a good set and opportunity, I just go for it,” Pruitt added. “I do my best, try to hit it as well as I can. Before the match I was a little worried about playing a 16’s team, but in the match I see that we can do this. I like the chemistry we have, how we play together and get ourselves back up if we’re down.”
Defensively, the Crushers had solid moments as well, keeping plays alive and doing the hard work of getting back in system, when they could again let their offensive weapons get loose.
“Our (runs) feel good, but that can make you nervous, too, because volleyball can be anyone’s game on any day,” coach Gold said. “You have to keep working until it’s over, and then you can celebrate.”