By Cody Thorn
The flight home will be a good one for the TStreet Volleyball Club 13 Bailey squad after winning the TC NIT Elite championship on Monday.
The Irvine, California club beat MadFrogs 13’s National Green from Plano, Texas in three sets, winning the first set, 25-23 and the deciding third set, 15-7. In between, MadFrog won 25-15.
“It feels incredible; this is the first of many big tournament wins for this team,” TStreet coach Bailey Tanner said. “They win a lot of local ones so it was about time we got a national one. We are ready to go home and get better and go onward and upward.”
TStreet Bailey went 9-0 during the tournament and was 3-0 in matches that went three sets – including the semifinals against Arizona Storm 13 Thunder early in the day.
“I was worried,” TStreet’s Ella Olson said of going to a third set. “But I knew we would pull it out. It was great winning. We came a long way and we proved why we got here and we showed them what we had.”
The decisive third set in the finals started out in favor of the Californians after a kill by Kate Jackson started the scoring. Olson, who led the team with eight kills, made another to make it 3-1 on a shot that landed in the corner, just in bounds.
“We had a call that didn’t go our way. It was close, 1-2, and it made it 1-4,” MadFrog coach Stefanie Samuels said. “We got the ball back and then we missed a couple of serves back-to-back. That put us back where we could’ve closed the gap, we didn’t get the opportunity to.”
MadFrog pulled within 6-4 but back-to-back points for TStreet, including a kill by Megan Hodges, made it 8-4 and led to a timeout by the Texas squad. The break didn’t help much as TStreet scored the next three points – two when kills by Jackson went off a MadFrog player and out of bounds.
Samuels called another timeout but TStreet added the next two points and led 14-4.
MadFrogs kept battling and scored three straight, the last on a kill from Keelyn Green, making it 14-7. However, a shot into the corner by Katherine Nowak fell in and ended the title match.
“Normally the team that wins the second set has momentum and we didn’t let that get to us,” said Olson, who was named her team’s MVP for the match. “We gave everything we had left, it was our last game, we came this far. We just had to show them.”
Olson came up with big plays throughout the finals. A kill in the first set gave TStreet its first lead of the set, 10-9, after trailing by as many as three points. The first set was tied at 10, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21 – before return errors gave TStreet the lead for good.
“We knew they would get kills, they were big and strong, but we had to hang in there and dig them out,” Turner said.
MadFrog, which had a majority of the roster of players that won the 12’s title last May in Kansas City, reached the finals by beating Mizuno Long Beach 13 Rockstar in the semifinals, 25-22 and 25-18.
“This was the first loss of the season and we’ve played a lot of good teams,” Samuels said. “Our region in North Texas is so strong with Skyline, TAV, Dallas Premier. We’ve been doing so well, now what do we learn from a loss like this?”
Up next for the Texas club is a trip to Salt Lake City in early March.
For TStreet, the win in three sets was different than the two previous ones, where they won the second set and then carried that momentum into the third set to win.
“We knew they (MadFrog) are a good team but our girls were terrific all day, all weekend,” said Tanner, who was an AVCA All-American player at Washington in 2016 and was a three-time All-Pac 12 selection. “They bought back a few times and we got better each time we went three sets. I was stoked.”
Tanner played for TStreet when she was younger and is now coaching, following in the footsteps of her dad Troy Tanner, who won two NCAA titles as an assistant coach for the BYU men’s program. He also coached Misty May and Kerri Walsh to a gold medal in the 2008 Summer Olympics.
By Adam Burns
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – On the biggest stage of the TC NIT, Munciana Samurai 18s was up for the challenge. Even if it was a daunting task.
The kids from Muncie, Indiana, bounced back after dropping the first set to take down star-studded Sunshine from Los Angeles (23-25, 25-22, 17-15) in a thrilling Elite Division Championship contest Monday afternoon inside Bartle Hall at the Kansas City Convention Center.
“They challenged us,” said Munciana outside hitter Eva Hudson, who recorded a match high 25 kills. “It was scary to come out here on the big stage, but to prevail is just amazing. We really came together as a team, which was great because (Sunshine) is such an amazing team.”
Highlighted by outside hitter Elia Rubin and setter Kelly Belardi – a pair of future Stanford Cardinal players – Sunshine boasted 11 Division I bound players out of the 12 on this weekend’s roster.
“How about that?” Munciana head coach and club owner Mike Lingenfelter said. “It had to be a street fight because they were so good.”
Like most of the match, the two sides stayed within two points of each other and endured 11 ties during the third and final set. Hudson and Lovie Wallace (uncommitted) each delivered a kill to knot the score at 14- and 15-all, respectively. Then, Hudson notched a crucial kill for a 16-15 lead prior to a game winning combined block from Wallace and North Carolina bound Ella Bostic.
“It was amazing,” Hudson said of her final kill. “I knew that I could swing away because my defense was going to cover me up. To have that confidence in each other is even that more amazing.”
Sunshine went 7-2 overall in the three-day NIT. On Championship Monday, they beat Tri-State Elite in straight sets (25-20, 25-21) and Skyline in two (25-23, 25-17). A5 Mizuno was the other club to beat Sunshine (28-26, 21-25, 15-5).
“The volleyball was very high level. (Munciana was) very, very tough,” Sunshine coach (LA) Ali Fathali Nejad said. “But we were happy because we had practiced for this situation. We were prepared and we knew this tournament was very tough. We had the path but unfortunately we had some errors. We have to go back and work.
“We’ll meet this team again in nationals and hopefully this tournament will prepare us for that.”
Munciana, which went 8-1 overall and beat Club V (25-13, 25-13) in the quarters and PVA Elite (25-18, 25-19) in the semis on Monday, relied heavily on the right arm and hops of the 6-foot-1 Hudson throughout the title match, especially late.
Hudson, who recently decommitted from Notre Dame due to the departure of former Irish coach Mike Johnson, hammered home eight of her team’s 17 points in the third set.
Lingenfelter wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I can tell you this,” he said. “In the last possession, if we got the transition, I told them to get it to (Hudson). She got us to the dance, so we’re going to dance with her. … That kid is as good a player as I’ve ever had. And I’ve had some pretty good ones. What’s amazing is that she’s a really gutsy player, but it’s something that’s lost in volleyball today; she’s got great volleyball IQ. She feels the game, I mean, and I think the special one’s do.”
Tight until the 20s in the first set, Sunshine used a 5-1 late run to claim the opener. The Los Angeles squad then started the second set strong with a 6-3 lead. However, a big-time block from Liberty University bound Brooke Elliott and kills from Wallace and Hudson ignited a Munciana 6-1 run and 9-7 lead. But, more importantly, a jolt of momentum and confidence.
“One of the questions I had coming in here was their tenacity and their willingness to win,” Lingenfelter said. “How hard are they willing to work?”
Sunshine responded, eventually tying it at 15-15 and 17-17 in the second set, but Hudson slammed home two kills and UMKC bound Kimora Whetstone added another kill to help send the title match into the decisive set claimed by the Indiana club.
And, of course, playing in front of a roaring crowd and an ESPN3 broadcast, Munciana came through in a big way.
“We’ve been fighting for these moments,” Hudson said, “so it just feels good to finally feel that glory.”
By Kyle Koso
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – After a weekend of flying high, it came as a total shock to see Jurnee Robinson laid low.
The soaring, roaring offensive presence for the 17s A5-Mizuno Jing squad had a truckload of huge kills in the team’s 17 Elite title match Monday against Drive Nation, and it’s no surprise she had the finishing blow in what was a 25-21, 19-25, 15-9 victory. However, she landed awkwardly after making the shot and had to be helped off while the Kansas City Convention Center crowd watched anxiously.
She eventually made it back to the celebration, posing for pictures and reveling in an amazing performance. Her kills and a cluster of hard-to-believe blocks from teammate Milana Thornton were the obvious highlights as A5 Mizuno held on the claim the title, which they won as 16s last May at this event.
“I was ready for it. This matchup, I had no idea about Drive Nation, but to play like we did feels great,” said Robinson, who has signed to play collegiately at LSU. “We had nothing to lose, and in that third set we talked about having the energy we showed the whole game. We just dropped a bit in the second set … we always know other teams may be bigger than us, but we are stronger. We have confidence in everyone.”
Thornton had a message-delivering block to start off the third set; Robinson had one to make it 3-0, Thornton did it again for a 5-0 lead, and she added a service ace off the top of the net to push the lead to 7-1. Drive Nation found some footing late, pulling within 12-8, but one more Thornton block felt huge, and was a nice table-setter for Robinson’s final swing.
“I had faith and I was focused, it all felt really good,” Thornton said. “They had good hitters, but we decided to bring it right back at them, and harder. We won last year, so we wanted to get back in.”
“Sometimes we get a little bit down and look at the ground,” said A5 head coach Jing Hou. “Our blocking wasn’t good there for a while, and we didn’t get off to a good start in that second set. Those were great blocks (by Thornton) and really, really important. It totally shut things down.”
She didn’t get the early swings in the title match, but Ashley Sturzoiu eventually got into the flow and smoked a series of impressive kills that matched whatever Drive Nation was putting together on their end.
“At the end of the day we win as a team and lose as a team; whatever I can do to help is my job,” Sturzoiu said. “When I get my moment, I’ll take it, but until then I’m there for my team. I wasn’t too concerned about the second set, there was just a moment there when they took the momentum. But it wasn’t like they took all our energy. We made some errors, and I knew for the third set we’d just go all out.”
By Kyle Koso
If you told Bob Westbrook he has a unique mindset and likes the idea of something turned upside down, he’s not going to debate you.
Addressing a problem from an unexpected direction has always been the right path for Westbrook, founder and director of the A5 volleyball club in Atlanta and the 2022 winner of the John Sample Award, presented by Triple Crown Volleyball.
With more than 45 years invested in the sport, in every role from player to coach to administrator to visionary, Westbrook has stood at the front of the line in the revolution of club volleyball. With a natural understanding that, as a women’s sport, volleyball circa the 1970s had much still to be explored, Westbrook got himself educated and then motivated to make a difference.
Step 1 of that education – become a law school dropout.
“My dad was a truck driver, and moving that direction, into law school, was a point of pride for him, as it should have been,” Westbrook said. “But me, thinking of myself as some sort of radical, and mad at my dad about all kinds of stuff, I dropped out. It was an added bonus to play volleyball and really make him mad.”
Westbrook chose to pursue coaching and training volleyball athletes, taking him to Chicago and California before filling the head coach post for pre-NCAA women’s volleyball at the University of Florida. By 1977, he was tasked with starting a real, functioning girls youth volleyball program in Atlanta; professional advancement meant moving around some more, and he returned to Atlanta in 1991 to take another swing at the club world there.
In 2004-05 he created VolleyPerformance, a private training company, and then brought together the right group of people to launch A5.
“I founded A5 at the urging of several folks who believed in a commonly shared vision of where club volleyball needed to go. We implemented a top-to-bottom training methodology,” Westbrook said. “We initiated a national level competition schedule as we wanted to be the best volleyball club in the country. We addressed how we travelled, number of coaches on a team, scheduling for success, and much more with the aim of being the deepest national level club in the country.”
“How we communicated, how we trained, Master Coaching and a host of other things that, we believed, would catapult us into the forefront of clubs in the country. This was a bold vision and goal as volleyball in the South was a wasteland at the time. The only thing we have truly done that is extraordinary is create culture, how we do what we do, in a vacuum.”
Starting from that point of restlessness and curiosity that occupied Westbrook’s thinking years ago, it’s no surprise his ideas for changing volleyball would weave in with how the South approached the games as well. Today, A5 takes great pride in its vibrant diversity where varied ethnic groups and genders come together for a greater cause, in a place where diversity was not always embraced.
“Of course, it’s a group of people that make things happen – revolution was in the air in 60s and 70s across our culture, and what was apparent to me was the last great unexplored natural resource in this country was women. They didn’t have the political, social and economic access – how much I saw that clearly, I don’t know, but I certainly sensed it,” Westbrook said. “It can’t matter what sex you are, what color you are. What does matter is who you are as a human being.”
“Maybe it was a part of the hippie culture, the new-age culture … the transfer of being a revolutionary and political actor, which I thought I was, to being a revolutionary volleyball person, had a lot of synergy, even if I never defined it that way. I always like and still like being on the cutting edge, the edge of what is possible. Volleyball became the tool with which I examined the truth in my life.”
Bob Westbrook timeline:
1974: Founded U of Fla VBC Junior Program
1975: Attended Coaching and Teaching VB course taught by Jim Coleman
1976: First Coach at University of Florida
1977: Trained with Adidas Girls (Debbie Landreth Brown, Debbie Green, Sue Woodstra) Junior Team, Orange County, California w/ Chuck Erbe
1977: Founded Atlanta VBC Junior Program;
sent to Atlanta to start Girls Junior Volleyball in the Atlanta/South
1978: Georgia State University
1979: Played in inaugural Haitian International Volleyball tournament
1981: Assistant coach for the East Coast Sports Festival women’s team
1981: Founded Front Range Volleyball Club in Denver, Colorado
1984-85: Assistant Coach George Washington University
1991: Returned to Atlanta to Coach Junior VB w Atlanta Juniors (next iteration of Juniors Club)
2004-05: Founded VolleyPerformance and A5 VBC
2008: 18-1 team won national championship in National Division
2011: Qualified First 18’s Team in Atlanta for Open Division in USAV National Championships
2020: AVCA 15’s Coach of the Year
2021: Second Ranked VB Club in US via Triple Crown Rankings (5-Year average as No. 2 Ranked Club in US)
The John Sample Award is presented by Triple Crown Sports in honor of coaches and program directors who go the extra mile in developing players, building character and supporting the priorities of hard work and compassion while demonstrating the highest level of integrity to the sport, the players, the families and competitors.
John Sample was the visionary and leader behind Texas Advantage Volleyball for 27 years; his life’s work was dedicated to the positive mental and physical growth of all players. He was determined to give back time, energy, money and expertise to create the best possible atmosphere for each student-athlete.
By Kyle Koso
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – One way to describe the task of facing the 16u Dynasty Black volleyball team can make anyone shiver in dread – imagine having a never-ending to-do list.
The way Dynasty can take charge at the net, as well as dig up any variety of tough shots, while also offering up numerous offensive threats from the back row to the front … well, it’s a lot to solve. And the team from Kansas City, KS., simply played at the height of its powers on Monday, storming past NKYVC in the TC NIT 16 Elite title match, 25-9, 25-18.
Dynasty never won every match in straight sets in bracket play, in one of the toughest competitive challenges a team will face in a given season. You can shower compliments on them just as they showered points in a dominant Set 1, scoring 14 in a row at one point.
“All of us talked after that first set, and we thought we played pretty perfect volleyball. We’ve been focusing a lot on our defense, and we’ve been pretty confident in our offense,” said Dynasty head coach Cassie Rockers. “They’ve been pretty darn good; we added three players to our roster who make us a lot better. They round out the team.”
Those additions – setters Reese Messer and Lauren Wright and middle Jada Ingram – did great work, with Messer using some clever tips to register points. Providing relentless offense and great blocking was Skyler Pierce, while Carlie Cisneros answered every assignment, whether it was to keep a point alive or to come flying in from the back row to tally another point.
Libero Ryan McAleer had a couple of difficult digs right out of the gate, more or less announcing to the crown and the ESPN3 audience that Dynasty wasn’t kidding around with a title on the line.
“It went really well, the best we played all weekend, and we did it as a team, not individually,” said Pierce, who had a noisy solo block for the first point in Set 2 that made it hard to imagine Dynasty would be letting down. “It felt amazing to do what we do, and it’s fun to do it with this team. I wouldn’t ask for anything else.”
Ultimately, Set 2 did get a bit interesting as NKYVC took a 12-11 lead on a tip from Lilly Gillespie, with another moment where all six Dynasty players watched a ball just drop in the middle of the court. But the window closed quickly. A sharp-eyed backset from Messer led to a kill from Abigail Mullen, Pierce combined with Piper Newton on a block, and Cisneros had an ace and another tough serve to handle, and suddenly it was 16-12.
“Our offense is already amazing, but we’ve been working on defense. Scouting teams, knowing what moves to make, and we all made the right moves at the right time,” McAleer said. “We had a moment of miscommunication, but we know that mistakes will happen and you have to move on from it. We’ve gotten good at putting a smile on our faces and talking each other up.”
“It feels amazing, because every single player that goes out there for us, we all have a very important part in things,” added Cisneros, who had a nice terminal swing to make it 22-15 in the second set and later ended the match with a kill. “We were meshing together; we didn’t want matches to go to three (sets), and the goal was to win Triple Crown.”
By Craig Buchanan
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A year after losing in the NIT 13U Elite Championship after taking the first set, MadFrog 14 National reversed the tide, overcoming a 1-0 deficit to Wave Volleyball to claim the 14U Elite NIT Championship (15-25, 25-18, 15-13).
MadFrog returned 10 players from the 2021 NIT Finalist team, but head coach Olaya Pazo said that her team tried to keep that out of their mind.
“We try to take it one match at a time,” Pazo said. “Of course we have high expectations for our group, but expectations can be hard to handle, especially at this young age. We just keep things in perspective; we want to compete, we want to do our best, and we want to improve as a team. The results will come.”
Their mental fortitude was tested in the first set as Wave jumped on MadFrog from the start and never looked back. Wave utilized great floor defense and aggressive serves to keep MadFrog out of rhythm and looked dominant in an opening 25-15 set victory.
“I told them that they have to get their mind right to compete,” Pazo said. “We fixed a couple of things (between sets). We tried to serve a little bit more aggressive to get them a little bit more out of system, which worked. When my girls play together as a team, they play amazing.”
That amazing display was in full force in the second set, led by a three-headed attack of Simone Heard, Blaire Bowers and Layla Austin. Heard led the team with 11 kills in the match, while Bowers and Austin had nine and eight kills respectively, as MadFrog took the second set in commanding fashion, 25-18.
The championship headed to a deciding third set, which MadFrog had plenty of experience in. MadFrog was tested with three-set victories in both the quarterfinals and semifinals, while Wave had yet to play a three-set match in bracket play.
The third set was worthy of a championship-deciding set, with both teams exchanging points, and neither side able to lead by more than two points. With the set tied at 11-11, libero Gabi Rodriguez saved a point with a diving dig and followed it up with an ace to give MadFrog a 13-11 lead. Wave responded with two points of its own to tie the game at 13-13 and force a MadFrog timeout. MadFrog came out of the timeout composed and rattled off the final two points to give the team a 2-1 victory in the championship.
“What’s amazing about my team, is we are so deep,” Pazo said. “We have 11 really good players. Those three (Heard, Bowers, Austin) are just really competitive. When it gets to the point, they just don’t care about making mistakes. I think that was the difference. They were just really aggressive.”