by Kyle Koso
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Already longer and better leapers than your average group of teenagers, the Mizuno Long Beach 13u Rockstar L squad may be ready for that next step, which comes when the mental game starts making sense.
Day 1 of the TC NIT showed that Mizuno Long Beach will be heard from, going 3-0 in pool play at the Kansas City Convention Center, capping the day with a 25-18, 25-13 win over the Milwaukee Sting Gold, who were also 2-0 heading into Saturday’s final match.
The most stressful moment for Long Beach came in the first set, when two aces from the Sting’s Peyton Woolman tied the set at 13-all. After a very cleverly placed kill from Makenna Barnes, the lead was back to 19-14 and Long Beach kept the pressure up to close off the set.
“They’ve been working hard getting ready for the tournament; this group is very young, with three kids that could play 12. We treat them like they are older because of their physicality, then they open their mouths and you go, “oh yeah, they’re 12 and 13 years old,’” said head coach Lance Aoki. “You joke with them on the bench a bit to calm them down, and then we get refocused. One group of 13’s we have is pretty focused, and this group, you’ve got to keep talking to them.”
The messaging certainly worked in Set 2, as Long Beach jumped ahead 15-5. Kaitlyn Herweg, who had a pair of important aces in Set 1, hammered in another in Set 2 to make it 20-8, and the defense did a nice job limiting the damage from the Sting’s two most potent hitters in Ally Schwab and Amelia Olson. Set 2 was never in danger, with the electric nature of Hanna McGinest’s play leading to some late kills and a big block to seal the deal.
Another cluster of big shots and hard work at the net came from Taimane Poe. While Mizuna Long Beach moved the ball around comfortably, thanks to setter Miette Moon-Sasik, it was clear McGinest would get leaned on to finish off key points.
“I wasn’t anxious, really. Our first two matches were easier, and this one, when it’s a team that is tougher, it makes me play better,’ McGinest said. “It feels good, because I know people are looking for me, and they rely on me to get kills. We goof off a lot off the court, but we are ready to compete when we get on the court.”
“We’ve definitely faced hard teams, but our team is really strong, and we knew we could walk I and be dominant,” Barnes added. “It’s a challenge, but when we get focused, we are determined. We have the vertical, the strength, the shots to take the other team out of the game.”
There’s already a pointed rivalry going with another California team, TStreet, and the odds are good Mizuno Long Beach will cross that path again at the TC NIT.
“We’ll be excited to see them. When we play them at home, they would always win key points, and we thought this tournament would be a time for us to show them we are better,” Barnes added.
“We had a good match last time; we are very competitive with them,” Aoki said. “We’re short a player this time, but hopefully we can still stay strong.”
13’s ROUNDUP – The aforementioned TStreet squad also went 3-0 on Saturday, as did MadFrog Green (last year’s 12u champions at this event), Arizona Storm, Flyers, Club V, Wave and City Volleyball.