by Kyle Koso
Hoping to finish the day with more victories than losses, the OTVA (Florida) 16 Elite squad clearly figured out how to build a lead late Saturday at the Triple Crown Volleyball NIT.
Keeping that advantage was another question, but OTVA (2-1 overall) weathered the low mood of those low moments and fought back, claiming a 25-23, 25-23 victory over the Colorado Juniors 16s (2-1) at the Salt Palace Convention Center. Playoff brackets and next opponents will be determined later Saturday.
OTVA led early in Game 1, then fell behind as much as 19-16 before rebounding – Colorado missed a chance to capitalize on a free ball, which tied the score at 23-all, and then Sydney Conley got a huge block for OTVA to give them game point. Libero Elli McKissock, who ranged all over the court and had a very strong match, finished it with an ace.
In Game 2, OTVA led 9-4 and 19-14, but both times Colorado fought back, taking a 20-19 lead at one point. But OTVA (which won the TC NIT title as 15s in 2017) blocked well, and another big dig by McKissock kept a point alive that helped her team wrap up the match.
“I played a few kids who didn’t have a chance to play in the first matches; they were a little nervous, and our serve receive went down a little bit,” said OTVA head coach Roberto Santasofia. “We finished strong, so that’s good for us. I talk to the girls about getting better every day – winning is the consequence of the hard work you put in.”
Colorado’s lineup, which has the potential to bother other teams once the brackets begin, showed a lot of muscle with Anna Davis, Mac Russ and Cassie Davis, the latter of whom put down a couple key points late in Game 2 to keep the drama building.
But OTVA had weapons as well, with Taylor Head and Leandra Mangual-Duran swinging effectively.
“We tried to take a breath (after losing the lead) and regroup. After a couple points, we did get down, but we try to build it back up,” said Head, who was solid in both full-swing kills as well as shots that required subtle placement. “We depend on each other. We didn’t have our best day today, and we’re not used to losing. We will regroup tomorrow and try even harder.”
“I think we need to make sure we play our game and remain calm,” Conley said. “We’re not ranked as high this year, so we’re thinking about working hard and getting back to No. 1.”