By Adam Burns
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Arizona Storm 16s learned a valuable lesson on the first day of the Triple Crown Sports NIT.
“These power pools are murderers row,” Phil Church said after his squad suffered a 2-0 defeat to A5 Mizuno (26-24, 28-26) on Saturday morning on Court 11 inside the Kansas City Convention Center.
Thanks to a fierce middle attack, A5 Mizuno held off a pair of comebacks from the Storm in an intriguing Power Pool A matchup featuring two squads that earned wins in their opening matches.
“Anyone can beat you and every match is tough,” Church said. “That’s why we come here, to get great reps and see where we’re at. This is a great barometer for us.”
Despite the two-set loss, the Storm rallied from seven-point deficits in both games. They tied it at 22-22 in the opener and had the Game 2 at game point at 24-23 before A5 Mizuno closed it out down the stretch.
“They had a very strong middle and they ran middle a lot on us and we didn’t pressure that enough,” Church said. “Hats off to them; they’re a strong team and they made more plays than us at the end.”
The Storm ran into a A5 Mizuno attack that features 6-foot-3 middle Jacque Boney, a Michigan commit. Boney collected 15 kills and five blocks in the victory.
“This was our first time being here so I just wanted to stuff block them and go get the ball,” Boney said.
So what did it take to close out win No. 2?
“We had to keep the mindset of intensity and always being intense because we sometimes lose our momentum,” Boney said. “Then we just have to focus and realize that it’s just volleyball.”
“It’s all about momentum swings and it also comes down to the basics,” A5 Mizuno coach Gabe Aramian said. “Our passing broke down at the end in both sets, but we were able to prevail.”
Aramian has a lot of faith in his squad, which played in its final pool game at 1 p.m. And why shouldn’t he? Aramian has coached the Georgia-based club 16s to the promised land once before, a NIT championship in 2017 in Salt Lake City.
“They can be as good as they want to be,” Aramian said of his current group. “It’s going to come down to errors and passing. If we can limit our errors to six or so per set and pass at 2-2 or above, we should be pretty set.”
As for the Storm, which also played its pool finale at 1 p.m., Church recognized that there is still plenty volleyball to be played. His team’s first loss did come only three hours into the tournament.
“This game isn’t going to define us,” Church said. “We had some swings there, but we just couldn’t get it done. We’re very talented just like everyone here in this strong tournament. We had the potential to come back from any deficit.”