By Matt Antonic
The ball landed out of play, and Club Top Select let out a collective cheer. The players mobbed one another on their side of the court, while parents celebrated in the stands. Top Select had completed its comeback, defeating Texas Advantage on Monday to win the championship in the Triple Crown NIT 17 Elite division.
It was a combination of championship joy and sweet revenge, as Top Select coach Blake Rawlins put it. TAV had beaten Top Select on Saturday, but Select made the most out of the opportunity in the rematch.
“We practice so much and it all pays off, in the end,” said Top Select’s Cierra Jenkins. “We’ve been working very technically to minimize our errors, and that really helped us win this game.”
Against what he called “probably the best team in the country,” Rawlins’ squad made a few too many errors in a 25-22 loss in the first set, and TAV was able to control the run of play. His club tightened the screws, however, and managed to throw TAV off of its game.
“Our serving was better, and we knocked them out of system a little bit,” Rawlins said. “We pass well, so we have to be in system and run our fast tempo and create some one-on-ones. If we’re not passing well, it’s probably a different outcome there, because of how big and physical they are.”
Superior serving and passing helped Top Select go on an exciting 4-0 run in the second set to go up 16-12, prompting a TAV timeout and a noise crescendo from excited parents. Top Select took the set 25-22.
“We talked about keeping our serves consistent so that we don’t give them free points,” Taylor Head said. “I think we just stayed in tune with each other.”
Staying in tune proved to be crucial as the third set wound down. TAV had pulled even at 14-all after trailing by two, prompting a final timeout to set up for the match point. Top Select’s leadership skills shined bright, and the team came out of the huddle to win the final two points and the tournament championship.
Top Select’s parent section certainly appreciated the fight, and the mood on Select’s side of the court was a festive one. The Florida-based club departed the Kansas City Convention Center, presumably to enjoy the win while escaping the frigid Midwester weather, reveling in pulling off a win over a team that had won multiple TC NIT 17 Elite championships in previous years.
By Adam Burns
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The chants echoed from inside the vast Kansas City Convention Center.
“TAV! TAV! TAV!” the Texas Advantage fanbase cried at 11:25 a.m. on Monday. That moment proved to be the midway point of Texas Advantage's triumph ... with some revenge along the way, too.
Texas Advantage registered a straight-set victory (25-23, 25-23) over Wave to claim the program’s third Triple Crown Sports 14 Elite NIT championship in the last four years.
To spice the title win, the Dallas-based team earned revenge over Wave, who handed Texas Advantage its lone loss of the tournament in three sets on Saturday.
“It’s really special because we’ve worked hard and we lost to Wave on Saturday, so it was really good to get that sweet revenge,” Texas Advantage outside hitter Lauren Ingram said. “The last set was really fun because it was tight and it was really intense with so many people and supporters.”
About that support. Both squads had large contingents surrounding Court 15, to go along with other teams that stuck around to catch the top two teams in the 14s Elite division.
“It was kind of revenge for us,” Texas Advantage coach Joe Jablonski said, “but most importantly we had to figure out how to sustain the energy after a three-day tournament. That’s hard to do sometimes.”
His players delivered, holding off Wave in two back-and-forth sets that gave the crowd everything it could handle.
“The energy was so intense and everyone was screaming and yelling,” Ingram said.
Texas Advantage set the tone early, jumping out to a 4-1 start. Wave, however, responded by knotting the score at 5-all. Texas Advantage regained the lead, one that it didn’t relinquish the rest of the way.
From that point, Texas Advantage led by as many as five points and allowed Wave to get within one point twice. Wave trailed 23-21 before Texas Advantage’s Kyndal Stowers slammed home two of her six kills, the final one sealing the first set.
In set No. 2, Wave used a 5-0 run to take a 12-7 lead, but Texas Advantage answered with a 6-0 stretch to regain the lead at 13-12, forcing a Wave timeout.
Eight ties ensued, with the last coming at 22-22, before Emily Simmons registered a kill and Miller McDonald recorded an ace to help Texas Advantage pull out the two-point victory.
“We came to play and beat them in three in pool,” Wave coach Juliana Evans said. “So it was awesome the way it came down to them in the (finals). The last match was a game of more details. We played the same level of volleyball, very technical and scrappy. But I think the nerves got the best in the end that decided the score. It was fun.”
As for Texas Advantage, Jablonski acknowledged that the more his team wins championships such as this one, the target will only get bigger.
“It puts us on the pedestal a little bit and puts an ‘X’ on our back,” Jablonski said. “They won the 13 open USA Volleyball last year, so we’ve had that before. Now (the NIT championship) says that we can compete with the best in the country before we get to Indianapolis in June.”
By Kyle Koso
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – When a lot of hard work is undone by just a couple quirky mistakes, it’s enough to spin a volleyball team into a funk and out of a match.
The Central Iowa Select 15 Elite had no reason to predict their troubles late in Game 2 on Sunday against Skyline Royal – CIS had pocketed four matches already at the Triple Crown NIT and had won Game 1, but Skyline took advantage when CIS let a ball drop, enough of an edge for the Texas program to claim the game.
CIS worked it out in the huddle, and went to work in Game 3, pushing through to a 26-24, 22-25, 15-10 victory to move to the Elite Division quarterfinals. They’ll face OTVA or Dynasty Black on Monday at the KC Convention Center.
“That was very unlike us to have that happen. We talked about, if you’re in a position to play the ball, do it, instead of assuming someone else will. You have to communicate,” said CIS coach Tina Carter. “I thought our kids did a great job of identifying their hitters. Skyline is very deep, and we didn’t know who’d they start or play. We talked about defending lefties; our team was scrappier, and we had better ball control and defense. That’s saying a lot against (Skyline).”
“I felt we realized it’s important to play like a team and not be selfish,” said Hayden Kubik, who rang up multiple noisy kill shots and had a key block late in Game 3 to give CIS a 14-10 lead. “Being a team, work hard together and don’t just focus on yourself.”
In Game 1, CIS spread the work around, with Dasha Svitashev coming through with three big kills in the late stages; Kubik and Chloe Largent combined on a block to finish off game point. CIS also had positive moments in Game 2, using a 8-1 run to take an 11-10 lead and at least put itself in a good spot before those aforementioned mistakes allowed Skyline to push ahead.
Defensively, Cali Coppola always seemed to be in the right position, and she also pounded home a few shots, helping the offense diversify when Kubik didn’t get the ball.
“I felt like we came together, everyone would cheer for each other, and if we made a mistake, we’d shake it off and just go to the next ball,” Coppola said. “The nerves just get me more hyped up and excited to play with my friends, my teammates, who are like my family.”
Skyline would have moments when they focused on muzzling Kubik, and at times it was very effective – little stretches gave the appearance CIS was struggling to identify a Plan B. Kubik showed an ability to adapt with a few clever tip shots, and her hammering swing was impossible to stop over the long haul.
“The ‘Hammer’ is very human, a young 14-year-old. We are working on ways for her to be more efficient,” Carter said. “Have a plan based on where the ball is at, and it’s a lot of information. But you can see moments where she is figuring it out. When you are repeating to a hitter, it can be hard for them to get into position and know what to do.”
“You can’t shut down; you have to focus on the team,” Kubik said. “And when I had the feeling I needed to tip, I just followed my instincts.”
By Matt Antonic
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The match between the Wildcat Juniors and Club A4 had already been an adrenaline-filled affair, so of course the third set came down to the wire.
Trailing 15-14 and a point away from a loss, an A4 hit landed on the line, or so the players thought. But the match official called it out. Game over, launching a victory celebration for the Wildcat Juniors and a protest from A4.
After falling in the first set, the Wildcat Juniors had successfully completed their comeback, winning in three sets (23-25, 25-17, 16-14). The win catapulted them atop the standings of Pool A in the 18 Club division of the Triple Crown NIT.
“That’ll be a good memory,” said a victorious Katie Carmichael.
The Sunday round of the tournament will indeed be a good memory for everyone on the Illinois-based Wildcat Juniors. They stormed through Pool A, winning all three of their matches, losing just two total sets in the process. It was Club A4 that provided the stiffest competition of the day.
The weekend as a whole has been an incredible experience for the team, which will return to the court tomorrow at noon.
“I think that we have gone through enough adversity this weekend that we’re learning to just be patient and wait for our time to score and go from there,” Wildcat Juniors coach Cassie Rose said. “I think it’s something, you go 3-0 on the day and win your pool that’s a huge confidence booster heading into the last day.”
After dominating the second set, the Wildcat Juniors and A4 engaged in a thriller of a final set. The Wildcat Juniors turned a 13-12 deficit into a 15-14 lead, prompting a timeout before the match point. Rose’s instructions in the huddle were simple.
“I told the team just to be patient, wait for our time and get our serve in and defend around the net,” Rose said.
Despite trailing near the end of the match, the Wildcat Juniors never lost their composure. In fact, they were as motivated as they had been during the whole match.
“We try in between points to really stay calm, not get too worked up and just stay aggressive and not be scared to make mistakes,” Rose said.
Having won six out of the eight sets they played on the day, the Wildcat Juniors are oozing with confidence. They will have their chance to win hardware in the championship rounds on Monday.
“We’re really confident that we’re going to win out tomorrow,” Carmichael said. “We know what we can do, and we proved it today.”
By Matt Antonic
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Milwaukee Sting coach Dave Bayer acknowledged that his squad had started this season a bit slower than he would have liked. But after a scintillating Saturday afternoon victory against Club Excel, the Sting are off and running at the Triple Crown NIT.
Bayer’s club won in straight sets (25-14), (25-23), and controlled play for large stretches of the match. With the win, the Sting advance to the 16 Elite quarterfinals.
“We grew up a little bit today,” Bayer said. “We didn’t freak out. That’s kind of been our MO early in the season, and they handled themselves extremely well today. I’m pretty proud of them.”
The Milwaukee-based Sting won the first set in one of the day’s more lopsided scores, 25-14. The team’s attacking prowess simply overwhelmed Excel. “The energy was really good and that helped us a lot,” said Katie Winkler. “When we have a lot of energy we play really well. We played a lot more confident and cool today.”
Winkler thought that the team’s focus on mental preparation was helpful in the second set, which featured a much more determined and organized Excel side. “We’ve worked a lot on our mental side of the game. Like picking each other up and moving on, and it definitely showed here today,” he said.
The Excel rallied, but the Sting came out on top in the second set, 25-23.
“We keep getting better and better every time we get in the gym,” Bayer said. “This has been a great tournament, great event for us, always seeing the best competition every time we take the floor here.”
The Triple Crown NIT, featuring nearly 600 teams, has brought out the competitive spirit in the thousands of players, coaches and club administrators that have descended on Kansas City. Monday’s final rounds are a treat to be a part of, Bayer said, but was careful to note that the biggest things the Sting will take away from the weekend are improvement and confidence.
“We’re not even worried about the end result of these matches,” he said. "We’re just trying to get better every time we take the floor, whether it’s here at Triple Crown, or when we get back in the gym Tuesday for practice.
That isn’t to say that his club doesn’t have their eyes on the prize. The Sting will face Club Elevation on Monday.
“A win like this is going to really help us tomorrow going into the last eight teams,” Morgan Yenter said. “We know our main goal is the championship.”