By Craig Buchanan
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A year after losing in the NIT 13U Elite Championship after taking the first set, MadFrog 14 National reversed the tide, overcoming a 1-0 deficit to Wave Volleyball to claim the 14U Elite NIT Championship (15-25, 25-18, 15-13).
MadFrog returned 10 players from the 2021 NIT Finalist team, but head coach Olaya Pazo said that her team tried to keep that out of their mind.
“We try to take it one match at a time,” Pazo said. “Of course we have high expectations for our group, but expectations can be hard to handle, especially at this young age. We just keep things in perspective; we want to compete, we want to do our best, and we want to improve as a team. The results will come.”
Their mental fortitude was tested in the first set as Wave jumped on MadFrog from the start and never looked back. Wave utilized great floor defense and aggressive serves to keep MadFrog out of rhythm and looked dominant in an opening 25-15 set victory.
“I told them that they have to get their mind right to compete,” Pazo said. “We fixed a couple of things (between sets). We tried to serve a little bit more aggressive to get them a little bit more out of system, which worked. When my girls play together as a team, they play amazing.”
That amazing display was in full force in the second set, led by a three-headed attack of Simone Heard, Blaire Bowers and Layla Austin. Heard led the team with 11 kills in the match, while Bowers and Austin had nine and eight kills respectively, as MadFrog took the second set in commanding fashion, 25-18.
The championship headed to a deciding third set, which MadFrog had plenty of experience in. MadFrog was tested with three-set victories in both the quarterfinals and semifinals, while Wave had yet to play a three-set match in bracket play.
The third set was worthy of a championship-deciding set, with both teams exchanging points, and neither side able to lead by more than two points. With the set tied at 11-11, libero Gabi Rodriguez saved a point with a diving dig and followed it up with an ace to give MadFrog a 13-11 lead. Wave responded with two points of its own to tie the game at 13-13 and force a MadFrog timeout. MadFrog came out of the timeout composed and rattled off the final two points to give the team a 2-1 victory in the championship.
“What’s amazing about my team, is we are so deep,” Pazo said. “We have 11 really good players. Those three (Heard, Bowers, Austin) are just really competitive. When it gets to the point, they just don’t care about making mistakes. I think that was the difference. They were just really aggressive.”