By Kyle Koso
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A couple of early plays from Maia Neiman and Eva Travis worked nicely as coming attractions.
The two TStreet 17-Naseri players took charge early in a Saturday night match against Arizona Revolution at the TC NIT, Naia with two skillful digs on shots that were smoked nearly to the ground and Travis with her trademark soaring attacks from the outside, with a vertical jump that would also get any basketball coach paying attention.
So when the match reached its tipping point late in Set 3, it made sense again that Neiman would keep a point alive with a clutch dig and Travis would drill the kill from on high, as TStreet secured the 25-21, 19-25, 15-11 victory to go 3-0 in Power Pool action. TStreet would be one of four teams from the 32-squad Power Pool lineup to go undefeated on the day.
The Revolution 17’s actually came back to tie up Set 1, slowly but surely unleashing their long and springy roster highlighted by the hitting prowess of Kendal Murphy (a Baylor commit), Eryn Jones and Evan Hendrix. A Neiman kill and two aces from Grace Jackson put TStreet in control to close out the set.
Set 2 was an enjoyable showdown of skills, with the Revolution taking a 13-6 lead before TStreet clawed back to within 14-13 on a block from Travis. But Murphy’s work on the outside and especially on leaping attacks from the back row rebuilt the lead, evened the match, and set the table for the Set 3 dramatics to come.
“When I’m focusing on staying calm, I think about how I’ve been in these situations so many times. I know that if we stay together and work hard, we’ll be OK,” Neiman said. “When I was pretty young, around age 11, I was a libero, and I’ve always loved playing back row more than anything.”
TStreet’s offense did a nice job of funneling the offense toward Travis as the third set advanced, going up 7-3 before two aces from the Revolution’s Bella Anderson (Grand Canyon University signee) tied it at 8-all. Neiman had a kill to make it 12-10, and after an Arizona timeout, the key sequence played out on Neiman’s dig and Travis’ startling height on her kill. The match was closed out on a terrific, hard-to-handle serve from Ella Scott.
“We have so many good players on this team, and we really jell. Maia is a phenomenal passer, really sets it up for me, and it all starts with the pass,” Travis said. “It can be nerve-wracking sometimes with the (hitting responsibility) but I thrive under pressure.
“My dad was a big jumper, he played volleyball, and I think I found it in middle school. One day I went up, I played middle, and I said, ‘oh, I can see the top of the net.’”
Both Travis and Neiman said they weren’t thrilled with how TStreet needed three sets to win every match on Saturday, noting either energy drop-downs or lapses that made the day harder than it needed to be. But with superior competition waiting at every turn, it’s hard to be perfect.
“We are a scrappy team. Maia made a great play late there, gave us an opportunity to set Eva in transition, and Eva had a matchup we really liked on the outside,” said TStreet head coach Naseri Tumanuvao. “The messaging was just about matching the opponent’s intensity and establishing our level of performance. We would like to put teams away when we get the opportunity.
“We encourage the kids to be tough defensively and to welcome the challenge. You’re going to see a lot of big attackers at this tournament, especially, and there’s no escaping it. You’ve got to battle, hold your ground, make a play.”