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.