By Kyle Koso
Given the caliber of teams at the Triple Crown Volleyball NIT, it certainly follows that close games and tight matches are the standard experiences for teams.
The pressure of deadlocked scores and the desire for anything resembling an edge certainly was on the minds of all at the 16 Elite title match Monday, with OTVA and Wave both showing strengths that had to be respected. But in Game 1, a 17-all tie eventually went to OTVA, and a Game 2 13-all tie also tipped OTVA’s way, giving them a 25-19, 25-16 victory at the Salt Palace Convention Center.
Sydney Conley’s work at the net on defense, and some wicked swings on offense, made the difference in Game 1, with Lauren Gips muscling up nicely on Game 2. In the end, OTVA kept hanging around on the scoreboard until their tactics and talents made the difference in the stretch run.
“We were able to figure out what the other side was doing, and then make the adjustments. We were good up through the middle of the game and could then finish them out,” said OTVA coach Roberto Santasofia. “I’m proud of the girls; we can make adjustments just like that, and this was a good tournament.”
This OTVA unit, with three different players, won the 15 Elite at this tournament in 2017, so there’s not a lot that rattles this roster. That trait was even more evident earlier Monday, when they had to come back from a game down to Coast before working their way through to a 21-235, 25-20, 15-12 victory.
“The first games of the day, I guess you could say we weren’t woken up. But after the second set when we know what they are running, things usually go better for us,” said setter Cierra Jenkins, whose left-handed skill set shined the entire match whether she needed a kill or an assist. “Our blocking improved whenever it got close in the final. We noticed how different teams progressed from last year, so we need to get in the gym and work harder. We need to work on getting off to a good start.”
“We didn’t have our best match individually, but as a team and group and family, it was awesome. We were able to come back, and that was a very good team on the other side,” said Santasofia about the Coast comeback.
One of the team’s backbones is clearly libero Ellie McKissock, who kept countless points alive with her back-row dives. She began noticing her ability to affect competition with her speed at age 12, while playing basketball.
“We came out a little timid with our serving (in the final), but we got a lead with our serving after a while,” she said. “That put some pressure on them. And it’s very comfortable on our side when you have 6-foot-1, 6-foot-3, people on your team. They’ll cover you, and they have to find those holes in the defense.”