Just because you ask your team to finish strong in a championship match doesn’t always mean you get your wish.
But Munciana coach Mike Lingenfelter had to believe his 18 Open team was prepared to meet his expectations, albeit in a tough moment against A4 Monday at the Triple Crown Volleyball NIT. Deep into Game 3, with Munciana clinging to a 9-7 lead, he called a timeout to set the table and then watched his players feast under pressure.
A kill by Jonni Parker (who is committed to Ohio State); a block at the net that led to an A4 error; a kill by Nia Robinson (Northwestern); and then a remarkable pancake save by Melani Shaffmaster (Minnesota) that led to a kill by Robinson – that was enough for Munciana to claim the crown with a 25-16, 18-25, 15-10 victory.
Munciana won every match it played at the TCS NIT, a wildly exciting achievement given the depth and strength of the competition.
“We came into this not wanting to be consumed by the result; we wanted to use this for what it is – the best event in the country to develop your process and to learn. This is a great laboratory to learn,” Lingenfelter said. “Late in Game 3, it was all out-of-system swings by Nia. She played out of her mind; she’s a bit unsung. We have a lot of kids who got accolades when they were younger, but Nia is the glue. That was the match.”
“After that timeout, we just couldn’t let them score that next point. We came out strong; we knew they had a strategy to win that point, but we were able to finish it,” said Robinson, who also had the final two kills of the match. “Game 1, our defense was outstanding – the back row was covering everything. Game 2, the defense slowed down and we got in our own heads a little bit.
“Mike told me to get it home, and I knew he was counting on me. So I went and played my best.”
Parker looks destined to enjoy a successful college career, able to provide a menacing jump serve, soft hands and wicked swings at the ball.
“We finally got our energy back after that second set, which really drove us home. It was our energy and our game that brought us back, and Nia’s been a really good leader all season,” Parker said. “I’m proud of what we did. (Pressure) is what makes us who we are, and it’s part of the fun. We want to make ourselves better and the team better. We had a couple plays where we were just bouncing balls off each other to get them over, and that’s where a lot of the energy comes from.”
In the third-place match, Skyline beat Top Select 25-20, 25-21.