by Matthew Antonic
OLATHE, KS -- To say MadFrog’s victory Monday over the KC Dynasty to clinch the championship in the 12 Elite division at the Triple Crown NIT was hard-fought would be an understatement.
“Ferocious” would probably be a more appropriate term to describe the team’s effort to secure the trophy and gold medals.
The energy level from the black and green side was incredible, from the players, coaches and a spirited section of families that had traveled all the way to the Kansas City area from Texas.
“It feels good,” Simone Heard said after her team dispatched Dynasty VBC (KS) in three exciting sets (16-25, 25-23, 15-10). “I’m so excited that we drove all the way over here just to win, and we did exactly what you wanted.”
MadFrog finished with an incredibly strong effort but struggled mightily out of the gate, losing a relatively uncompetitive first set by nine points. Head coach Stephanie Lewellen chalked that up to a tendency for the team to start slowly in the first set and then finish strong.
However, the coaches never wavered after the rough start, and the players certainly didn’t either. In fact, the MadFrog sideline was one of the most notably energetic sidelines in the entire MAVS volleyball facility Monday afternoon.
During the competitive second and third sets, Lewellen said she was proud of her team for keeping their composure, especially with all the noise around them.
“The emotions that we’re feeding them from the sideline, that’s how they’re going to respond,” she said. “We always try to keep it high-energy, but level-headed and try to stay cool, calm and collected.”
MadFrog and Dynasty were tied at 16-16 in the second set before taking control, holding off a rally at the very end to force a third and final set.
“We just went out thinking ‘this is our game,’” Gabi Rodriguez said. “We wanted to leave it all out there because it was our last game.”
"We just went out and believed in ourselves and trusted each other for every ball,” Heard added.
In the final set, the teams traded points until six, when MadFrog went on a crucial 4-0 run to take control, leading 10-6. Once MadFrog had control, the Dynasty were buried in too large a hole to fight back.
The Triple Crown NIT Tournament was a new setting for the MadFrog 12u group. The club has been well represented by older teams in the past, and this was the first go of it for Lewellen’s group. It’s safe to say that the experience, capped off by a photo op with the first-place trophy, was well worth it.
“We couldn’t ask for anything better,” Lewellen said.
When Rodriguez spoke, her voice was hoarse from screaming during the match. Communication, Lewellen and Heard emphasized, was key to the team’s victory, and MadFrog players were especially vocal on the court and the sideline for every point.
Rodriguez’ answer about the team’s work ethic wasn’t lengthy, but it didn’t have to be. The final result helped speak for her -- “The hours we put in and all the work, it definitely paid off.”