By Kyle Koso
KANSAS CITY, MO -- Volleyball is packed with mysterious changes in momentum, with weird and random bounces and shots that can turn a match on its head.
So when you've got something reliable and trusted, like the lineup of the Legacy Black 18 Elite team, you've got some insurance against the unexpected.
After last year's Legacy 18's (MI) took first place at the 2019 Triple Crown NIT, the next group moved up and measured up in every way, topping A5 Mizuno-Scott (GA) in straight sets Monday to earn the 18 Elite championship, 25-20, 28-26 at the Kansas City Convention Center. With a lineup that is an ideal blend of length, strength and speed, Legacy fought off two late set points in Game 2 and closed the door with a block from South Carolina commit Ellie Ruprich.
"What was amazing about today for us, from the first match and even previously, we played so cohesively. A lot of us have been together for five or six years now, so we know each other's tendencies," said setter Alexa Rousseau, who is headed to play at Northwestern. "We know what works, what to say to each other. Every part of our game was on, and as one. Our work as a team and our mental toughness helped us win."
Rousseau made a wise choice at 26-all in the third game, after she tried to dump the ball quickly over the net only to see A5 jump in and dig the ball. A few seconds later, Rousseau decided to soft-serve another shot, this time to an open spot in the back right of the court, making it 27-26 and setting the stage for Ruprich's last swing.
"We've been trying to find those places that work for me, because I know when we get into trouble I have to use myself as an option," Rousseau said. "Knowing it was there, having the confidence to go and redeem myself, I was playing and not thinking. It worked out."
A5 Mizuno had an early lead in Game 1, but a tip from Kendall Murray (Michigan) and an ace from Ruprich made it 21-16 for Legacy. Megan Dombrowski (West Virginia) punched a winner to make it 24-20, and a block from Lauren King (VCU) finished the game.
"Our team has a variety, we can swing anywhere on the court, and that's one of strengths here at the beginning of the year," said Murray, who was driving down shots all day. "We can hit from anywhere, use our speed, and we try to use that in every match. We tell each other all the time to focus on our side, do what we know how to do. It's a honor (to be relied upon), but I can't do anything without people around me. It's fun to play with my best friends, you really can't ask for anything more."
Legacy coach Bryan Lindstrom recalled how often this group played last year's 18 Black, and how frustrating it was to never beat them. The 2020 version certainly looks ready for its own run of successes.
"We got fifth at JO's and fifth here last year as 17's, and we battled (the 18's) every single day in practice and never won. Our mantra was, how do we follow that group up," Lindstrom said. "We had teams lined up that we were able to get revenge on, and after that our confidence was through the roof. Our libero, Kennedy (Dolmage, an Oakland commit) played out of her mind, and our setter is super tough to defend, whether she's hitting or dumping the ball.
"If that was us on Day 1, we would have lost that match. Our momentum picked up ... we had one of our middle go down Sunday, had a kid fill in, so we had that confidence and belief that we're not done until it is over."