By Cody Thorn
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Arizona Storm 18 Thunder made quick work of two foes on the way to a quarterfinal spot in the 18s Elite Division Championship Bracket at the TC NIT on Sunday at the Kansas City Convention Center.
The Phoenix-based squad reached the quarterfinals with a 25-16, 25-16 win over Ku’ikahi 18 Wahine RSB in its second match of the day.
A combo block from future Division I players Logan Bluetreich (North Texas) and Anita Babic (North Carolina) got the scoring started for Arizona, and the duo had another block for the second point of Set 1. The Storm 18’s scored five of the first six points and bumped the lead to 15-6 before the Hawaiian squad recorded consecutive points for the first time, pulling within 15-8.
“That team was a good team, but the key was staying fast and making them think,” Storm coach Terri Spann said. “I think we were able to stun them a little bit.”
The deficit grew to 21-10 for Ku’ikahi and then 24-12 before a late rally. The Hawaiians scored four in a row and forced Arizona to call a timeout to regroup. A return error ended the match shortly after the respite.
Ku’ikahi came out of the gate hot in the second set, getting a pair of kills from Kelia Giusta, jumping ahead 6-2. Slowly the Storm 18’s started to cut back at the deficit and tied the match on a return error at 11-11. A kill that sailed out of bounds gave Arizona the lead for the first time at 12-11.
The lead never changed hands after that.
“I think we dug deep, we knew we were a little bit off,” said Storm player Jordan Middleton, who followed with a kill to make it 13-11. “We started to click and communicate and make the pass, running the middle and splitting the block really helped us. Our block is really solid and we just worked really hard along the net and it really paid off.”
After the kill by Middleton, who signed with USC, Ku’ikahi called a timeout to try to regroup. It worked initially when Belle Iosua got a kill to cut the deficit down to a point.
From there the Storm closed with a 12-5 advantage. Ella Lomigora, a Long Beach State pledge, had two kills and a block, while Middleton added two more kills.
“We have not been very pretty at winning, we’ve been winning in three and it’s been ugly,” Spann said. “We’ve been waiting for teams to make errors – today, the last two matches we were earning our wins and forcing teams to have to play a little harder against us.”
Next up will be a Kansas City-area team in PVA 18 Elite, which also posted a pair of two-set wins on Sunday. The quarterfinal matchup will be at 8:30 a.m.