By Kyle Koso
KANSAS CITY, MO -- While there was nothing untrue about the early scoreboard for the LoneStar 16 Red squad, everyone knew the results really couldn't be trusted.
Playing to advance Sunday in the 16 Open division of the Triple Crown NIT, LoneStar (TX) jumped all over Rainbow Volleyball Club (HA) in Game 1 and pocketed a 25-14 victory. But RVCH would never think of going quietly, and LoneStar had to summon a more complete approach before coming from behind to win Game 2, 25-21 and reach the Open quarterfinals.
LoneStar will face the Rockwood Thunder Elite on Monday at 9 a.m., with the winner going to the semifinals.
Blessed with a tall and athletic roster, LoneStar can just rely on physical presence at times, and the team's ability to control the net and force the opponent to change tactics certainly impacted Game 1. Jessie Moore's block gave LoneStar a 17-7 lead, allowing the team to breeze the rest of the way.
RVCH came back inspired, digging up shots and getting some explosive moments on offense -- Jaelyn Tang's kill gave Rainbow an 11-7 lead in Game 2, and big swings from Emi Erickson also kept RVCH in range. LoneStar regrouped and went from a 15-all tie to a 19-15 lead, with kills from Moore and Mikah Finley coming late in the game to preserve the lead.
"It was a little frustrating, but I had trust in my team. I just needed to stay focused, as all of us did," said Kelsey Perry, whose dominant presence in the middle was key to the lead swinging LoneStar's way in Game 2. "It's a great feeling (when commanding the net), with lots of energy, and I love it when we have that. We're expecting to do well -- we should have won our first game (in Saturday's power pool) but no matter what happens, we will keep fighting."
"No matter how it goes, we have to stay together. Win or lose, I always trust my teammates ... I just try to run the offense and always be positive on the court," said setter and hitter Jazzlyn Ford, who had back-to-back aces in Game 2 and always seemed to be in the middle of point-producing plays. "If the other teams dig, good for them, but I stay positive. It feels great knowing that we can get teams upside down, that's a great vibe and a really good feeling."
LoneStar head coach Jacob Hannan has run the show with this group since it was an 11u team and has been determined to make sure their physical attributes aren't the sole identity of the roster.
"We know we are a good blocking team; we struggle sometimes with smaller teams because we tend to not put our hands over the net. When it starts to connect, you can see us dominate because we are one of the biggest teams here," he said. "We can get too close to the net sometimes, which causes problems. We've been very good about creating a defensive tenacity, and we've learned we have to block and play defense (behind it), put those two things together.
"We've worked on the mental aspect ... we do our best to say the last point doesn't matter. If you look at us, we create a huddle, and we look each other in the eye. It's about what's about to happen. In the power pools, we'd lose the first set and then win the second and third set, and no one looked afraid or scared. They had the confidence to come back."