By Adam Burns
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For about a half hour on Monday afternoon, TStreet and A5 Mizuno went toe-to-toe in the 16 Elite championship game of the Triple Crown NIT.
The two sides traded punches in an intense first set, just as they did in pool play just two days prior. And with a tournament crown at stake, the intensity was certainly high.
TStreet ultimately edged A5 Mizono 29-27 in the first set to put the California-based squad in the driver’s seat.
But what happened next may have come as a surprise to the fans gathered around Court 15 inside the Kansas City Convention Center.
TStreet turned on the burners in the second set as it sped past A5 Mizuno to claim a straight-set victory (29-27, 25-14) and an NIT championship. It’s the club’s second 16s title.
“This is a huge win for the club,” TStreet coach Mike Murphy said. “I’m so proud of the girls. It’s massive. We got the gold back in 2012 when this first started.”
The victory capped an 8-1 weekend, including a pool play victory over A5 Mizuno (32-30, 26-24) on Saturday. Texas Advantage handed TStreet’s lone loss (26-24, 25-15) in a pool play opener.
A5 Mizuno finished the weekend with a 7-2 record and as tournament runner-ups.
“We weren’t satisfied, but the first set was a battle,” A5 Mizuno coach Gabe Aramian said. “It was very close, similar to how we played them earlier in the tournament. We had multiple opportunities to close out the set; we just couldn’t perform when it mattered.”
Much like TStreet’s pool play win over A5 Mizuno, the first set of the title match was an action-packed battle. TStreet jumped out to a 5-1 lead before A5 Mizuno took its first lead at 10-9 following a 5-0 run. Thirteen ties followed during the remainder of the set.
A5 Mizuno’s Jacque Boney caught fire late with five kills and a pair of blocks. But TStreet’s balanced attack of Macy Wilder, Grace Chillingworth, Elyse Stowell, Rachel Fairbanks and Brianne Albright all contributed kills down the stretch to seal the set No. 1 win.
“The first win gave us more energy and we came out really on fire in the second set,” TStreet outside hitter Jessica Smith said. “We had a lot of energy and our blocking really pulled through. It lifted us up and kept us going.”
TStreet kept it rolling in the second set as it jumped out to a 5-1 lead. A5 Mizuno cut the lead to 5-3, but TStreet scored three straight and eventually used a crucial 6-1 stretch to take a 15-7 lead.
A5 Mizuno made one final push with a 5-0 run to trim the lead to 19-13 to force a TStreet timeout.
TStreet proceeded to finish the contest with a game-sealing 6-1 run, giving the program another title to its trophy case.
“It’s huge, especially because it’s the first tournament of the year,” said Smith, a UCLA beach commit. “Starting off strong really gives us a strong starting point for the year.”