by Kyle Koso
There’s not a ton of mystery to the approach of the Tri-State Elite 17’s volleyball squad – get the offensive menace cooking with hitters Tessa Jones, Lucy Trump and Maggie Bugkovitch and see if anyone can put up resistance.
Late Saturday in 17 Elite power pool action at the Triple Crown NIT, Tri-State deployed the plan but found the Premier Nebraska 17 Gold was more than ready for the challenge. The first two sets featured heavy hustle and wild momentum swings, and Tri-State managed the critical late moments best in a 13-25, 25-13, 16-14 victory.
Premier Nebraska broke open the first set, fueled by the all-court skill set of Sadie Millard and solid swings by Maddie MacTaggart. Tri-State came out of the huddle more than agitated that they hadn’t executed very well, and that’s when the offense turned fearsome.
“We knew we were better than what we were putting out there. We told the girls to stay confident, keep their heads up, and we would perform better,” said Tri-State head coach Kevin Lucas. “Nebraska’s defense, we hadn’t really seen that level all year, and we had to but into playing some really long points. They keep everything up in the air, so we had to get to the right mentality the second and third set.”
Trump terminated multiple points early in the second set as Tri-State took an 8-0 lead; two straight kills from Jones and a service ace made it 18-10 for the right amount of breathing room. Tri-State’s hitters were not only powerful, but very agile, allowing the lineup to reset over and over on long points to give them the best chance against Premier’s defense.
“We play a lot of 18’s in power leagues, and we lose most of those, but we have this communication and bond. It’s helps us grow, and we can pull out these types of matches,” said Trump, a Notre Dame signee. “My grandpa played volleyball at Ball State, back in the day, he’s really big on your vertical. I’ve been working on that my whole life, and my whole family, too. Through training I’ve been able to get faster, and that’s helped a lot because I’m a little undersized for my position.
“We don’t see a lot of these teams in tournaments, playing JVA, but we know how great they are. We came in knowing we’d have to work our butts off to play at a high level. I know I can look to my left and know, that person is going to get the ball.”
The third set’s first highlight came from Tri-State’s Gracie Reisman, who had a kick-save on a ball that kept it from falling before converting on a tip for the point. Her team took a 9-6 lead; there was a mix of service errors and errant shots, and a Reisman kill made it 14-13. At 14-14, Trump dropped in a nice placement for a huge point, and Jones finished it with a kill.
“I find it fun, I love to score, and even if I get blocked a couple times I tell my setter, you got to set me again. I want to score and help get us on a run,” said Jones, who will play at Ole Miss when she graduates next year. “If I get the point, maybe it will lift the spirits of somebody else on the team. I’m usually smiling when I’m playing; it gives me a ton of adrenalin and I’m happy to be on the court.
“We were tired, looked like we weren’t awake (early). This is a good start, and I think we have a good chance of winning it all.”
“This is one of the best regular season Tri-State teams we’ve had; only lost twice against 17s,” Lucas said. “We’ve won some tournaments and know we are a good team, and excited to prove it out here.”