By Marcos Aragon
The Aspire 18 Rox team has been the true definition of “survive and advance” at the Triple Crown Volleyball NIT.
The team is playing with a short-handed roster but has continued through the tournament like nothing has changed. The lack of depth didn’t come back to bite Aspire (AZ) on Sunday as they defeated A5 Mizuno 18-Bob in three sets, 22-25, 25-19, 15-12 to advance to the semifnals of the 18 Elite division.
With a thin bench behind him, Aspire head coach Ryan Tolman was forced to get creative with his rotations and game plans.
“We’ve got a couple of girls who are out right now. One of our middles is out and we’re missing a defensive specialist,” Tolman said. “We’re trying to manage some girls in some new spots and I think we’re playing well.”
Aspire’s first set was riddled with some early mistakes. Many of the first points surrendered to A5 (GA) were from service errors and players being out of position defensively. Aspire fell behind but made up for it towards the end of the match, getting more in sync despite being down.
Adjustments were made after the first set and Aspire looked like a completely different team, leaping out to a 20-8 lead. A5’s outstanding defense from the first set looked like it had been figured out by Aspire. The weak spot in A5’s defense throughout the match was the center, and Aspire ran more sets for their middles and attacked with smart shots, picking out their spots with precision.
“We’ve played (A5) a number of times, and they always give us fits like that. It’s a little bit of a different defensive scheme, so it takes some time getting used to,” said Tolman. “We just kept at it. We know where we can score some points at times. It’s a matter of just trying not to score more than one point at a time. Just get the ball in play and make them continue to beat you. Late we were able to find some holes, which was nice.”
Libero Anna Morse admitted to being fatigued after logging so many minutes on the floor but knows she and her team must stay ready to go for their next match.
“We’re all pretty tired because we’ve all been playing pretty much every game, but we’re really excited,” said Morse. “Everyone stepping up was really important and I think we all felt a little bit of pressure at least in the first set we lost -- but we were really pumped up, we knew this was it. We knew we had to win the next two and everyone really stepped up and showed out.”
“The message was to stay the course, trust your training, be ready to play when you get the chance, and they did that,” said Tolman.
In the 18 Elite semis, Aspire will face defending champion Munciana Samurai at 10 a.m. Monday, with Legacy Elite and the Idaho Crush squaring off at 11 a.m. The 18 Elite championship will be decided at 1 p.m., with the match broadcast by ESPN3.