By Kyle Koso
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Watching an early lead wither and perish can really take the bounce out of the steps of a volleyball team.
But the OTVA 16 Jason squad has been making strides on their mental approach these days, and that was the key to prevailing in hard times Sunday as the Florida program earned a spot in the 16 Elite quarterfinals of the TC NIT. Their 25-23, 25-15 victory over MadFrog Green means OTVA will look to advance into the semis in Monday’s 7:30 a.m. match with A5 Mizuno-Gabe at the Kansas City Convention Center.
OTVA got off to a fine start against MadFrog, with a Mara Happ kill putting them up 14-10, but once the Texas squad began to settle in, they got back in range and actually went ahead, 18-16, on a kill from Brianna Watson. OTVA head coach Jason Partington called a timeout, and the reset worked wonders as his squad scored five consecutive points, two on aces from Bella Lee.
“We got ourselves in some trouble with serve receive, keeping ourselves in system. We talked about moving our feet, get to the ball early, and we made an adjustment on the block,” Partington said. “Their outside was hitting hard cross-court, so we said move the block inside and take it away, and we were able to do that.
“We’ve been harping on it all weekend, we have to limit our errors. Keep it simple, and if it’s not there, get ourselves regrouped, which we did consistently there.”
“We had to discuss the small changes we needed to make, come together and relax. Our team, especially, will get stressed out, so it’s taking that 30 seconds and then getting back to it,” said Bailey Higgins, a potent left-handed kill option who was on fire early, tapered off, then had the big shots at the end. “A lot of times, I do say, I want that ball, I want to slam it, but my mentality is it won’t happen always. I try to find different ways to find a point or motivate my teammates to get the kill and keep things going.”
Higgins had some early success on her swings in Set 2 as OTVA moved ahead, 6-2. MadFrog tied it at 9-all, but OTVA bounced back with shots from Taylor Bedinghaus, Taylor Parks and Happ. Higgins did her work again with a kill to make it 18-13, and MadFrog could never shrink the gap.
“She’s mentally tough, and nothing rattles her,” Partington added about Higgins. “Even if she’s not getting touches or getting at down ball she wants, maybe the other team made adjustments … she plays defense, gets a block, waits for the opportunities to get those putaways.”
The other obvious strength for OTVA in the match came down to a sense of calm and steadiness, even as MadFrog’s terrific hitters started to get loose. Right there in the heart of it for OTVA was Happ, who dealt out some hard-earned blocks and a mix of kills to keep the match from suddenly tipping toward the muscle and might of the opponents.
“We’re a good team, one that can come back when we are down. I really wanted to win this match, win it in two, and stay aggressive,” Happ said. “I try not to be intimidated by anyone, even if I’m tall I know they might be taller. I put faith in myself and my teammates, because they always support me. At this level, you’re going to play others who are taller and stronger, but I do what my coaches tell me and make the adjustments I need while I’m playing.”