by Kyle Koso
Heading into its final match of the day Saturday, the Houston Juniors Volleyball 14 Elite squad had displayed its length and flashed its skill – yet had just a goose egg to display in the win column.
A less than ideal start against the Lions Volleyball Academy could have doused Houston’s mood for good as power pool play began at the 2021 Triple Crown NIT in Kansas City. But HJV kept faith, and kept hammering, enough to post a 16-25, 29-27, 15-9 victory with Kennedi Rogers closing both the second and third sets with noisy, impressive kill shots.
Once Rogers got rolling, there wasn’t much the Lions could do to slow her down, and HJV also had other muscles to flex, with the 6-foot-5 Jordan Taylor causing lots of problems as well. Setter Kirra Musgrove kept HJV in rhythm by spreading the ball around, and some of those looks also found the powerful right arm of Sydney Bryant – ultimately HJV was able to survive that exciting second set and grab early control of the deciding third set.
“This team loves playing against the Lions, I felt like there was a one-play turnaround, and we got our momentum back,” said HJV head coach Lauren Rhodes. “Once it happened, it didn’t stop. All day we had good plays, obviously some errors in there where we couldn’t string plays together.
“One of our kids that wasn’t here showed up, brought some energy, and we were a whole different team after that. Whatever works for 14s, whatever makes them happy.”
Down 10-7 in the second set, Taylor authored two kills to get HJV closer. After taking a 24-21 lead, HJV saw the Lions rally, with two kills and a block from Abby Vanderwaal tying the set. The Lions took the lead twice; HJV countered, and Rogers finished the deal.
“It felt really great. It was hard after that first set, but I think we came together and pulled it off,” Rogers said. “When it’s flowing (for me), that feels great … to know I’m helping my team when it’s needed. For us, we are very competitive and we don’t like losing. In the championship of our last tournament, we lost … this match is not exactly a rivalry, but we really wanted it.”
Taylor finished off a long, demanding rally with a kill to make it 9-4 in the third set.
“I knew I didn’t want to go home 0-3. We couldn’t do anything about the past, so I just wanted to work as hard as I can to win … that’s all I can control,” Taylor said. “It’s hard sometimes, you just have to find a way to get yourself out of it and play for each other. It felt great to get (rolling), especially against a team that is that competitive. I think we can use this momentum and kust keep pushing forward.”
Vanderwaal had a stellar match for the Lions, starting the proceeding with a kill, an impressive dig, and a tough serve to push her team to an early 4-0 lead. Hannah Kenny and Mataia Lawson also had numerous key sequences for the Lions.
Premier Nebraska went 3-0 in this particular power pool on Saturday; Arizona Storm, Houston Skyline and Arizona Sky also went 3-0.