by Kyle Koso
KANSAS CITY, MO -- In 2019, a group of volleyball players under the moniker of Club Iowa Select shocked mostly everyone attending the Triple Crown NIT, storming past national powerhouses to a second-pace finish in the 15 Elite division.
Minor changes to the roster, and a change of name to Club Ignit Select, didn't mask anything about the team's ability to excel against the best teams in the nation, as the 2020 TC NIT saw Club Ignit take charge in the 16 Elite bracket Monday, winning a three-set semifinal before coming back to top the Arizona Storm for the championship, 19-25, 25-21, 15-7 at the Kansas City Convention Center.
CIS didn't quite display all of its attributes in Game 1, while Arizona took command thanks to high-flying kills from Jordan Middleton and a mix of smart plays from Anita Babic, Laylah Daniel and others. Game 2 was a separate tale, with Hayden Kubik being asked to swing away and delivering multiple points as Ava Reynolds and setter Lauren Carter followed through with timely contributions.
And after back-to-back aces from Dasha Svitashev made it 19-17, CIS went on to split sets -- no one could forsee Game 3's path, where CIS used a 9-0 run to smooth its journey to the title.
"Some of (the Storm's) contact points are maybe a little different than other players we've seen, their offense is a little different ... it was important for our middles to identify (the hitters) and for us to defend," said CIS coach Tina Carter. "That's what we've been doing this whole weekend. Our ball control is what led us to this point."
And when able to stay in system, Lauren Carter can get the ball to CIS' assortment of weapons. Kubik scored four straight points to start Game 2; she had a critical winner to make it 23-21, and a couple of kills and two aces in Game 3 also proved huge, as CIS rode faith in itself while the Storm looked a bit tight in the latter stretches.
"I take it as I'm grateful for my teammates trusting me. Having them play with me is an awesome opportunity," Kubik said. "This year, we had a purpose, and we came here for a reason. The first set, we kind of sat back, so we said, 'we gotta go.' I don't really know how Game 3 happened, I just focused really hard on my serves and took a deep breath, kept going."
"I think that's what good players do," coach Carter said about Kubik's ability to dictate the moment. "She's got that high IQ, understands how to play big, play smart, use the block to her advantage, be aware she'll be targeted a lot, and I thought she responded really well."
Game 2 saw CIS in danger of losing in straight sets, to be sure. Arizona took a 17-16 lead on a kill from Kylie Moran, and Middleton got the Storm within 22-21 on a nice shot before CIS won the game on a Reynolds kill.
"This tournament just may be a little magical for us. Over three days, playing elite competition, it raises the confidence of the girls when we are having success," coach Carter said. "There's this genuine trust; I've had a lot of them since they were 12's, so they're used to each other, trusting that the person next to you is doing what they are supposed to.
"When you're playing teams that big and physical, you can't just run things straight ahead. Being able to stretch them a bit was a key."
Game 3 actually saw CIS down 3-1, but a block from Sam Schroeder changed the mood; a net-cord ace from Kubik made it 12-4, ending the run.
"This is my first year on the team, and it's really helped me being with all these players," Reynolds said. "They've made me better, I've made them better, and we really have come together as a team. We believed in our hearts (even after) Game 1 that we could win it. We needed to use every player to get it done. You can't be intimidated; you have to know your skills and trust your training, be confident and attack the ball at all times."