by Marcos Aragon
SALT LAKE CITY — On championship Sunday, Hive 16 Gold captured the 16u Open title after defeating Club V 16, 25-20, 25-21 at the Triple Crown West Coast Invitational. Hive’s precision ball control was too much to overcome as they never let momentum shift to their opponents. When the team needed a kill, they easily found open space in the middle of the floor. This is Hive’s first tournament win.
“We are a big physical team, but I think what opens it up is our decisions — our choices on where we’re setting the ball and when we’re setting it up,” said Hive head coach Sarah Chism. “Our middles are very active, which opens it up for our outsides to go when they need to and be one and terminate the ball."
Jordyn Harvey explained that her team has a strong chemistry off the court, but the team’s true success is their ability to play as a cohesive unit.
“I think the strength of our team is we have really good hitters in the front row but really good passers in the back row,” says Harvey. “So when we connect, it really works because we can count on our team to get a good pass, and then count on the rest of the team to get a good kill or a good block.”
Margaret Mendelson noted that the team has had many close finishes but had been unable to bring home a championship, until today.
“We’ve needed a win. We’re always so close, we took third at Vegas and fifth at Crossroads,” Mendelson says. “We’re always right there. So to actually take one home is really awesome.”
Next up for Hive (Farmington, UT) are Nationals. After winning their first championship, the team is riding high with confidence. The team finished the weekend with a single loss to NE Elite 16 Top Gun, but Harvey pointed out that “anyone in this whole country is beatable.
Hive earned two impressive wins to reach the final, sweeping Absolute VBC and Texas Advantage.
“It definitely gives us a confidence booster to know that we’re a good team and we can go take this thing if we really want to,” Harvey said.
“This tournament was really important as a national prep for us, and I really like the format because it teaches us that we have to win all the way through, we have to be 1-0 every game,” said Chism.
“Our primary focus in this tournament is ‘survive and advance. 1-0, we focus on that immediate point, immediate set, immediate game right in front of us, and we’re able to keep our heads and not get too caught up in what’s down the road.”
Chism has high praise for the tournament, but even higher appreciation for the host city.
“I love that this tournament is in Salt Lake. Salt Lake is awesome,” she added. “People should come here, it’s a great location. The convention center was awesome, downtown is awesome, Utah is awesome. The weather is great, people should come to this tournament — this should be the premier tournament.”
by Marcos Aragon
SALT LAKE CITY — Wrapping up their third and final match of the day, TStreet 15-Chris was eager to end their shift at the Triple Crown West Coast Invitational on a high note. TStreet’s defense came up big in the second set and propelled them to a victory over Club V, 25-22, 25-14.
TStreet was down by six at one point in the first set, but great team defense eventually held Club V at bay long enough for the offense to claw their way back in. Chris Sisson, head coach of T-Street 15, expressed his respect for his opponent by calling this match the “toughest match of the day, if not the tournament.”
“They really pushed us,” said Sisson. “It was just a matter of staying composed and doing the things that we do. Defense, dig the ball, attack high and hard, make them defend and make them earn their points.”
Things changed for TStreet (Irvine, CA) in the second set as their defense stole the show. Sisson says his team’s energy level remained high all game, despite a close first set and two previous matches (victories over South County 15's and Renovators).
Between matches, Babi Gubbins says that her focus is always on rest and recovery, and knows the extreme value of those on her body.
“My body is my instrument,” she said. “I really have to make sure I feel well before I play.”
Gubbins believes that the strength of her team is their ability to dust themselves off after each play and stay focused on the next point. Gubbins notes that it’s also nice to be able to show off for the college coaches again.
“That’s what gets me motivated and excited to play,” she said. “Even the best players make mistakes. If I make a mistake, it’s fine — move on to the next play and just hope to do better.”
Annah Legaspi says she wasn’t too tired when it was time for their final match, instead she feels that the level of competition only makes her more excited. Legaspi also credits her team’s depth as well for their ability to stay fresh for each match.
“Each match, in my opinion, got harder and harder. So I was just ready for a better team to play,” she said.
Sisson agrees with Legaspi’s assessment of team depth and added, “we have a lot of girls who can contribute in a lot of different ways, so we had an opportunity to get a lot of playing time all the way across the board.”
by Marcos Aragon
SALT LAKE CITY — FH Muscle 17 Elite earned their second win of the day after the team defeated Club 801 in straight sets, 25-17, 25-16, during power pool competition Saturday at the Triple Crown West Coast Invitational.
Precision passing and a handful of aces played a big part of the team’s victory. The offense was in a major groove from the opening serve for FH Muscle, and head coach Brett Braziel credited his team’s devotion to its discipline.
“When we stay disciplined and do our job, we don’t have much to worry about.” said Braziel, who describes the strengths of his team as effort, discipline and great energy. “We’re real dynamic hitting, when we pass well — we’re hard to beat.”
FH Muscle (based out of the northwest Metroplex suburb of Justin, Texas) felt confident after their first win of the day against Forza 1 North 18 UA, but Jentry Lamirand describes the nature of their confidence stemming from their simple focus of just playing as a team.
“We’re preparing for nationals, so we’ve been working on some small details just to get better as a team.” Lamirand said.
Halle Sherlock agreed with Braziel that the team’s passing was huge for them Saturday, as was their serving.
“We have really aggressive and strong serves.” Sherlock said. “Serving is definitely one of our biggest strengths.”
Between matches, Sherlock says that her coach’s message was to remain disciplined, and Lamirand explains that the team also went over their adjustments as needed.
“We focused on what their defense was doing and we were able to find the spots on the court that were open,” she said. “We kind of analyzed that in the first set and really capitalized on that in the second.”
Despite the clear tactical strength of the team and its commitment to discipline, Lamirand pointed out that their chemistry will always remain its most vital aspect.
“We’re good teammates,” she added. “We all love each other, we’re all like sisters and best friends, and I think that’s our main strength.”
Looking ahead to their next match, Braziel says that he’s excited about the level of competition that his team is ready to face.
“Us playing to our level and being disciplined,” he said. “And getting a W.”
FH Muscle ended up topping NPJ 18 Forefront (25-22, 25-20) in its final match of the day to go 3-0 overall Saturday.
by Marcos Aragon
SALT LAKE CITY — It’s been more than 450 days since the familiar sounds of referee whistles and sneakers gliding across the court have been part of the routine for a multitude of college volleyball coaches, which made the noises Friday inside the Salt Palace Convention Center a welcome diversion.
The West Coast Invitational, a debut event produced by Triple Crown Sports, is designed to give teams an opportunity to play teams across the country that they’ve never seen before, but also get in front of college coaches who may also be unfamiliar with those in attendance. For Kai Nielsen, head coach with Club V in Utah, he’s been waiting long enough for the opportunity to place his players in front of college coaches and showcase what they can do.
“It’s wonderful,” explains Nielson. “It gives them a chance to finally go out there and show these high-level coaches, ‘hey look, this is what I am working on and I’m going to show you that I can do these types of things — I can learn and get better.’”
He added, “Without this type of environment, we don’t have a chance for coaches to be able to do that type of stuff, to see these kids just show up and play some volleyball and do what they love doing.”
College recruiting took a major hit when the coronavirus pandemic descended and forced coaches to change how they recruit in a short amount of time. Sam Atoa, head coach at Utah Valley University, explained how he and his staff had to make use of their time away from the road.
“Who knew about Zoom? I didn’t know anything about Zoom until this and all of sudden it’s like ‘I wish I would have had some stock in Zoom.’” says Atoa. “We had to figure out ways on social media, technology-wise, we had to familiarize ourselves, if we hadn’t already, with FaceTime, Teams, and Zoom.”
University of Washington head coach Keegan Cook describes the environment of the tournament with a profound enthusiasm.
“I told somebody that this was the happiest I’ve ever been walking into a convention center and staying on courts for eight to 10 hours.” says Cook. “Usually, we start with the NIT in February, but starting here just feels right.”
“We’re coming out of a tough year, people are happy to be in this space together,” he added.
Cook explained that the challenge of recruiting during the pandemic was that so much of player scouting relies on the things that don’t pop out on tape, such as how players handle adversity, how they react around teammates and other hidden intangibles that don’t show up on a computer screen. Now that he and his staff can get back out on the road, they plan on utilizing their time better than before.
“We tried to watch a lot of film through various online mediums to be a little more efficient, but I think we’re going to see a lot of coaches just spending all of June in places like this one,” said Cook.
Atoa echoed Nielsen’s sentiment about the importance of the competition and growth value that the tournament provides, but adds that the community of friends and colleagues that are at the tournaments are his favorite aspect of the games.
“This is volleyball; you have a fairly close network of friends,” explains Atoa. “Anytime we have that and we’re able to get together — we go to lunch together, go to dinner together, and just kind of visit. It’s good to kind of see how everybody is doing.”
by Marcos Aragon
SALT LAKE CITY — After two matches already completed, Idaho Crush 17 had one opponent left on their schedule for Friday afternoon: North Pacific Juniors 17 National.
“Should we have won all three (matches)? Yes. Did we? No,” explained Crush 17 head coach Caroline Bowers. “But that’s okay, because I have four new (players) who have never practiced, they just introduced themselves today. It’s okay, we just need a little time to get familiar with our jobs, our roles, but I expect really good things tomorrow. This is a really good team.”
The Crush 17 defeated NPJ 17, first with a late comeback in the first set, 27-25, and then 25-18 in the next set during Day 1 of Triple Crown’s West Coast Invitational at the Salt Palace Convention Center.
In this Power Pool C matchup, NPJ led in the first set by as many as four points. Despite the Crush’s overall exhaustion, Eden Bower explained how the team didn’t allow themselves to lose focus or succumb to their fatigue, and that came in handy while the team was battling out a win.
“It was a lot of fun, once you’re out on the court -- you’re playing volleyball.” says Bower.
The second set was a much different story for the Crush, who turned on the intensity when they went on a six-point run to open the set and claim a seven-point lead. The Crush never looked back after that. Bowers says that the key to her team’s win was strong serving, but the quick bond the team was forced to create with the addition of four brand new players.
“I think what was finally good is they were finally able to figure out who each other were,” says Bowers. “This is not normal, you won’t see any other teams grab four new players and throw them in; this is a very unique situation. For us, it took some time to figure it out, but tomorrow will be different.”
Bowers pointed out that experience is vital to a team here at this event. Knowing how your teammates will respond to a new environment, especially after playing in empty gyms and not in front of college coaches and scouts, is paramount to team success, but first-time tournament player Alex Acevedo isn’t concerned about her first tournament – she’s welcoming the idea of playing the top teams around the country.
“I really like the competition because in Idaho you obviously have to travel to really get this kind of competition, so it’s good to see nationally best teams,” says Acevedo. “It’s really exciting, you have to have the mindset of ‘do anything you can’ because you can’t be scared of these teams.”
For Bower, she values the tournament as a way to improve her game against teams that she doesn’t normally see, making sure that her team remains as sharp as possible.
“It’s so much fun; this is one of my favorite tournaments that I look forward to,” says Bower. “I feel like I’m always getting better because we’re always being tested.”
The 17’s and 18’s will get back in the fray Saturday in both Power Pool and Open division matches, with the championship matches scheduled for Sunday at 2 p.m.