by Cody Thorn
Despite not having a full, healthy roster, MadFrog 15s National Green prevailed in 15 Elite championship match on Monday.
The Plano, Texas-based program won 2-1 over Premier Nebraska 15 Gold in the title game at the Triple Crown National Invitational Tournament at the Kansas City Convention Center in Kansas City.
MadFrog lost the first set 25-23 to the squad from Omaha but then won the next two, 25-20 and 15-13. The game winning point came from a hit by Avery Jackson, which fell in the middle of the court after hitting the top of the net.
“Just seeing it drop was really nice,” Jackson said. “I was just trying to get it over and hit it as hard as I could so we could finish it. It was a good feeling. We have been battling all weekend and we have done so, so it was good to finish it. The word of the weekend was resilient, so I’m glad we pushed through and fought as a team.”
Added her coach Nikki Bramschrieber, “she went for it and I said swing to score and then it trickled over.”
MadFrog had to rally in the third after falling behind on miscues as four straight return errors gave Premier a 7-3 lead. Bramschrieber called a timeout to help regroup her squad and it worked a bit. MadFrog pulled within 7-6 within moments thanks to a serving error and kills from Regan Fitzsimmons and Lillian Croshaw.
“I tried to make them not feel the pressure,” Bramschrieber said. “It’s just volleyball. Just play. If they get a pass and we get a set, our first ball sideout is pretty good. I only worry when we can’t get multiple points. If we are serving, we are pretty hard to contend with.”
A service point from Talley Grissom allowed MadFrog to forge a 9-all tie in the deciding set. Back-to-back shots, with deflections going out of bounds, gave MadFrog the lead for good.
Croshaw had a block to make it 13-10, which led to a timeout by Premier coach Shannon Smolinski.
Premier pulled within a point twice, 13-12 and 14-13, the first on a combo block by Mia Tvrdy and Josie Clevergina and then on a service error by MadFrog.
Then, the match ended on Jackson’s shot – one where she just tried to get the ball over the net.
“We were resilient and we were pushing hard,” said Croshaw, who led the team with 12 kills. “We were not going to lose. We just kept pushing for every point.”
The match was the first for Premier on Monday that they lost in three sets. Earlier in the day, the Nebraskans beat A5 Volleyball Club Bob in three sets and then dispatched Adidas Dynasty Black in three sets in the semifinals.
The first set featured a back-and-forth contest that had nine ties through 22 points. The latest came at 11-11 but Premier rattled off three straight points to regain the lead getting an ace and then a kill by Lauren Medeck – who had a game-high 14 kills.
Premier never trailed from there, but MadFrog wouldn’t go away. Up 20-15, the lead dwindled to 21-20. MadFrog pulled within 22-21, 23-22, 24-23 but a kill by Tvrdy ended the first set.
MadFrog turned a 4-4 tie in the second set into a five-point lead, 11-6, after consecutive kills by Croshaw and Jackson – who just returned from five-week hiatus after a broken pinky suffered playing sand volleyball.
Premier got within a point, 16-15, following a block by Medeck but that was the closest score as MadFrog pulled away. MadFrog – 8-0 in the tournament – then took the first point of the final set on a combo block by Lainee Pyles and Akunna Cos-Okpalla.
Jackson had nine kills, while Fitzsimmons chipped in with seven. Jackson had a 2.48 passing percentage and added six digs, tied for second on the team with Avery Baughman. Fitzsimmons had seven digs, while Pyles led MadFrog with three blocks and two aces.
Carson Eickenloff led MadFrog with three assists, though the team is still reeling from the loss of setter Cate Hatfield. A knee injury last Saturday left her on crutches and the team trying to change the rotation and scheme ahead of a national tournament.
“It was difficult (to win) with a partial roster,” Bramschrieber said. “We are fighting a lot of injuries. We lost our setter. Avery just came out of her cast and our other right side was out for almost six weeks. Our goal was to come here and not be injured any further. We like to come here in February and compete, and I wish we’d been here in February. We’d been fully stocked by then. But this ended up being a warm-up for nationals. If we can win with what we got, the majority are USA teams, we have a good shot at being a medalist in (Las) Vegas.”