by Matthew Antonic
After winning the first set convincingly over VC United, the Houston Stellar found themselves in a tied second set, 8-8, in 17u pool play Sunday afternoon.
Then it rattled off a point. And another. And another. The floodgates opened, the Stellar could do no wrong, and only after a 10-0 run did VC United temporarily stop the bleeding.
The dominant stretch propelled the Stellar to a win in straight sets (25-20, 25-18) as action continued at the Triple Crown NIT.
“We just kept up our serves and our offense was great,” Talitha Lew said. “We just kept going and communicating with each other.”
When the Stellar had pushed the lead to 12-8, VC United called a timeout, but it did nothing to slow down the Texas-based side. The team’s system was being executed to perfection.
Lew was an anchor for the Stellar defensively, helping keep the team organized while VC United attempted to rally back. It did momentarily knock on the door near the end, cutting the Stellar lead to 23-18.
However, Lew and the Stellar would not be denied the victory, with the team scoring two final emphatic points at the net to cap off the victory.
Blakely Montgomery said the team’s efforts in practice have paid off during the tournament.
“We worked a lot with our middles creating splits for outside,” she said, “and with everybody going hard all the time even when they make mistakes.”
Montgomery also praised the team’s ball movement, which was consistent all match and caused several defensive issues for VC United.
The Stellar players have shown off their creativity during the tournament at the Kansas City Convention Center, along with their energy as a team.
“Today, we started off a little quiet, but then we got really hyped,” Lew said.
Lew and Montgomery were as energetic as anyone on the court, constantly offering praise for the many good plays made by their teammates.
Stellar coach Christian Dunn was pleased as he watched his team record a strong win from the sideline. The key to this group’s skill on the court, he said, is the familiarity of players who have been together for many seasons.
”The core group of these girls have played together for a long time, and we added some pieces that we thought could take us to the next level this year,” Dunn said, “and they’ve done a good job filling in where they should be and progressing.”
At this level, Dunn said, coaches are always stressing communication to players. When the Stellar are talking, he said, dominant stretches of play like the one on display Sunday will naturally follow.
“When they’re communicating with each other, sometimes they get on a roll and they’re unstoppable. Playing with each other for so long, it just works,” he said.