by Michael DeLeon
The Triple Crown NIT is now fully underway and we had some amazing match ups in each age group. We picked a few matches to cover and this one really peaked everyone’s interest. The match I covered was Houston Skyline 16 Royal versus Coast 16-1. Both teams are no stranger to big stages and big-time play. Let’s take a closer look at how both teams fared against each other.
Houston Skyline 16 Royal
These young ladies are no stranger to winning as they ran through the Open level competition in three USAV National Qualifiers last year. The only thing that has changed is this star-studded squad has gotten better, faster, and stronger. Key the Kanye West song play in background as you read the rest of this article. They go ino this matchup having already played two matches against two of the toughest teams in the tourney. Last year’s USAV Open division runner up Arizona Storm 16 Thunder and their awesome outside Teraya Sigler bested Houston Skyline (25-21, 26-24). Their second match went the distance also as they fell to 1st Alliance 16 Gold (23-25, 29-27, 15-17). Anyone who knows this tournament well will tell you that every match is going to be tough. That is the beauty of it.
Coast had a much different day as they went into this last match undefeated. They had already dispatched Milwaukee Sting 16 Gold (25-27, 25-17, 15-9). Coast’s second match was another tough battle with a retooled Drive Nation squad who we have seen a few times this year. Coast took the match (25-19, 25-23). Next up was another super tough Texas squad. After watching Coast today, I know one thing is certain. They will not give up without a fight.
Even though both teams had different outcomes of their first two matches, this matchup was super intriguing to me. Coast’s ball control and defense is second to none and is kind of the standard operating procedure of each team in the club. Cali teams are always great at the overall game and usually wear their opponent down by digging everything that comes their way. Houston Skyline is your typical Texas team in that they are extremely explosive offensively and can bang the ball with anyone.
The first set saw both teams trading punches in the middle of the ring for the first three quarters of it. Neither team would let the other go one a run as they were going shot for shot. No one had the upper hand. That is until the defense on the Houston Skyline side started playing extremely well. Taylor Porter, who is well known as an explosive point scorer on the pins, started playing phenomenally in the back row. She picked up everything that came anywhere near her zone. Ava Poinsett of Coast was the one who had an answer for every Houston Skyline point that was scored. Miss Poinsett was brilliant moving the ball around the block and finding holes everywhere. Stella Dillon was also banging away on the right side of the court for Coast. Skyline eventually pulled away and won the first set 25-18 thanks to Bailey Warren and Baleigh Minor who began to score at will.
Set 2 was never close as Skyline’s Porter was throttling the ball down the line on the right side. She took advantage of a hole and Coast never adjusted. Kassidy O'Brien was brilliant as she moved the ball around so well to each of her hitters to keep Coast’s defense off-balance. I was thoroughly impressed with the play of Ella Lewis of Skyline as she routinely let some bombs loose from the back row during out of system plays. Coast went on a small run toward the end of the second set when their libero Paulina Baille started to frustrate Houston Skyline’s attackers by picking up everything that came her way. She is one of the best liberos in her grad class in the state of Cali and she showed it in this match.
However, Houston Skyline eventually pulled away and won the second set 25-21, which closed out the match in two straight sets. This was a fun match to cover and both teams showed why they were invited to the power pools.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Triple Crown NIT is now fully underway and we had some amazing match ups in each age group. We picked a few matches to cover and this one was another solid matchup that intrigued me. I covered Excel 16 National Red vs Absolute 16 Black. Let’s take a closer look at each squad and how both teams fared against each other.
Excel 16 National Red
Excel is a team on the rise in our eyes. They might not look like much height-wise across the roster, but these young ladies can for sure play the game of volleyball. They won their way into the challenge pools by winning two matches and losing one in their opening non-power pool. They dispatched OVA 16 Black (25-7, 25-17) and also Iowa PowerPlex 16U Black (25-18, 25-23). They almost pulled out the three set nail-biter versus NKYVC Tsunami, but fell (25-27, 25-20, 19-21).
They have some serious ballers on this close knit squad. Right Side Evelyn Macie Potter is one player who will garner a lot of attention in the 2026 class as she has tons of power in her right arm. Libero Piper Mickenheim is brilliant in the back row and has an amazing range defensively. She can very quickly go from one side of the net to the other as she has amazing vision for off-speed balls and also reacts quickly to deflections with awesome fast-twitch muscle fibers in her lower body.
Halle Jameson is another top talent on the left side for this squad. She is able to use her great length to battle well at the net. I love how she creates and utilizes momentum into her approach in order to add some thump to the ball at contact. Outside attacker Julia Hicks may not be as tall as the others, but all this does is score points in a hurry. She has every power shot in her arsenal and scores off of the block well with it also. Lucy Cisneros is also very special and plays like a seasoned veteran at the net. She is very athletic and can bang with anyone.
Absolute 16 Black
I have watched this team for the past few years and they are a sight to see. Yesterday on Day 1 they played a few tough teams in the Power Pools. They lost two close matches and won their final match of the day. They are one of the top teams in Northern California due to their awesome play. They have a top tier talented middle in Isabella Ehrlich. She is dominant at the net both offensively and defensively. Teams definitely have to game-plan around her.
Libero Lauren Dignan is one of their super fun to watch defenders. She covers so much ground both defensively and while covering hitters. I absolutely love how she is able to collapse her entire body on hard driven balls. Outside hitters Emma Knutson and Aveya Stone both love to swing hard and bring the heat for this wonderful team. Setter Julia Waller is phenomenal at delivering the rock to her teammates. She is not afraid to get up and battle at the net while running the 5-1 and being front row.
Both teams were able to match each other’s energy and they traded punches well figuring each other out. The first set was a tough battle and it went extras as Absolute was able to win (26-24). Both teams had their “A” game and were not letting up on energy. Set 2 was close at the beginning but Excel had Absolute’s number toward the end and they pulled away to a 25-22 victory. Excel’s setters were able to spread the ball around to all of their hitters and it kept Absolute’s defense a little off-balance. This match up was destined to go to three sets as both teams are filled with studs who won’t quit.
Excel seemed to have an answer for everything that Absolute threw at them in the third set. Excel was able to ride a run of awesome serves from Mickenheim as she closed out Set 3 (15-10). Her serves were stifling as they knuckled side to side in the air. Both teams battled very hard and have some amazing talent to play at the next level in a few years.
By Michael DeLeon
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – It is time for Championship Monday at the Triple Crown NIT in Kanas City, Mo. All of the hard work over the past two days has come to the final two teams in the 13’s age group. Its Dynasty 13 Black versus Madfrog 13 National Green. Both teams were extremely hungry and proved all tourney that they belonged in the final match.
Dynasty 13 Black
Dynasty is no stranger to the national stage as they are always in the mix with the best of the best. The squad from Kansas was undefeated on Day 1 as they took down Munciana 13 Stingrays, Texas Advantage Volleyball 13 Black, and A5 13 Karen. Day 2 saw them dispatch Arizona Storm 13 Thunder, Sky High Adidas 13 Elite, and MAVS KC 13-1, and they stood undefeated after two days of amazing competition.
If anyone thought that they were done showcasing their skills at a high level, you obviously haven’t seen these youngsters ball. They have some swag to their game and brought it for the Championship bracket. They defeated 1United 13N Bill easily in two straight sets. Next they took down Tstreet 13 Bailey in straight sets again.
Some amazing players lead them to greatness in order to battle Madfrog in the championship match. Their setter Sophia Sturdy plays like a seasoned veteran as she dishes the ball to some wonderful attackers. She also doubles as an attacker as she stays in when she rotates to the front row. Outside hitter Camryn Minatee plays with so much emotion on the left side and really gets her team’s momentum going with her fire. Her offense was pivotal in the championship match for Dynasty to stand toe to toe with Madfrog.
Libero Haedyn Lynnes and defensive specialist Mayley Morrison were instrumental in their squad’s run this tournament. Brooklyn Andrews was phenomenal offensively for Dynasty as she scored well out of the middle in the championship match.
Madfrog 13 National Green
These players seem to have championship DNA running through their blood the moment they put on a Madfrog jersey. As an organization that covers many teams across the country, we have witnessed numerous teams across all age groups dominate at the national stage. Their culture is fun and family-like in every team. The crowd they bring with them to every match is extremely supportive and it consists of other players in their club, parents, and other family members.
13 N Green did not drop a single set all tournament until the championship match. They ran through all of their opponents with flash and flare. On their way to the finals they dispatched A5 13 Karen, Legacy 13-1 Adidas, Munciana 13 Stingrays, 1United 13N Bill, MN Select, and MAVS KC 13-1. This squad is littered with future prospects. Their “go to” hitter is Maya Ogbogu and she is a problem! This young lady has the potential to be the best attacker in her age group in the nation. There is no one that even comes close. She rises up off of the ground so effortlessly and then unleashes raw power on anyone in her way.
One of her setters is the amazing Aleyna Bramschreiber, who is a fantastic distributor of the rock. Another awesome aspect of her play is how effortlessly she plays defense out of right back. She is able to dig balls with her platform and her hands during overhead situations. Aleyna will be a force for the foreseeable future. Ella McNeal is a dominant right-side attacker for this squad. She has some serious hops on the opposite pin and uses her lightning quick left arm with purpose. Katherine Clegg is another left side attacker that truly stood out while I watched them in the championship match. She had some amazing timely kills in crucial situations that helped Madfrog keep the momentum on their side.
One of the stars of the show had to be libero Brynli Burgess as she showed some impeccable form and technique in the back row. I loved her footwork and how she kept her upper body positioned forward before, during, and after contact of the ball. It was a picturesque showing of how to play the position.
Both teams came into the championship match undefeated and full of swag. Set 1 saw multiple ties and lead changes with neither team gaining a significant advantage. All knotted up at 18-18, Dynasty used some magical defense to keep their team in every rally. Their defense flustered the Madfrog attack and caused their hitters to have a few untimely hitting errors and a shanked pass out of serve receive to end the first set with Dynasty winning 25-20.
Set 2 saw Madfrog’s awesome outside Maya Ogbogu come out swinging and had them up 13-6 which caused the first timeout to be used by Dynasty. The tide certainly turned in Madfrog’s favor as their offense came alive across the board from all of their hitters. Dynasty also had hitting errors of their own during the second set as they tried to press too much. Madfrog won the second set easily 25-14 and had all of the momentum on their side.
Madfrog used that momentum to start out with a four-point lead. This caused Dynasty to call their first timeout and they finally ended the run by Madfrog. But this Dallas area squad tasted the win and then went on another run to take the lead to 9-2 before Dynasty scored their next point. Dynasty then went on a run of their own to get the score to 12-7. From then on it was big kill after big kill for both squads as they had the entire championship court on its feet and cheering. The fever pitch hit its peak as Madfrog came away with the victory from a huge kill by Ogbogu to end the third set 15-12.
By Austin Kingsley
KANSAS CITY, Mo -- What a run for the California crew.
The West Coast was well-represented in Kansas City, but Surfside might not be the first name you think of when considering club volleyball dynasties from the Golden State. But this 16s group from the Long Beach area made sure you knew the Surfside name by the end of 2023 TC NIT.
With the cameras rolling on Court 13, Surfside 16 PV Legends captured a two-set win in the 16U Elite championship over Houston Skyline 16 Royal, one of the popular title favorites heading into the weekend.
Surfside Strikes First
From the beginning of the title match, 16 PV Legends proved that they were not intimidated by the high-flying attack of Houston Skyline. While Surfside’s offense anchored much of the team’s success throughout the weekend, it was the defense that led the way early in the title bout.
Middle blocker Daniela Rusich was incredibly effective in locking down seams at the net. Even when she wasn’t getting straight-down stuff blocks, she generated positive block touches that helped Surfside’s backcourt make easy touches. Right-side hitters Preslie Saunders and Similoluwa Adefemiwa took care of Surfside’s wing blocking, too.
With this formidable net presence, Surfside enjoyed a 15-12 advantage at the opening set’s TV timeout. 16 PV Legends then expanded their lead after the break as another middle blocker, Kalyssa Blackshear, made some crafty shots in front of the setter.
But we can’t go any further without mentioning Surfside’s big gun on the left side: Kaci Demaria. If you wanted to claim that Demaria was the most valuable 16s athlete at Triple Crown this weekend, no one would argue with you. Her long frame and fluid arm swing make defending Demaria a nearly impossible task. She has risen to superstardom in Kansas City and will be a household name for years to come.
Demaria fittingly capped off a Set 1 win with a kill, putting surfside firmly in control of the match.
Texas teams don’t go down without a fight, and we saw some Set 2 resilience from Houston Skyline.
Surfside was tasked with defending a wealth of elite attackers from 16 Royal. Outside hitter Bailey Warren certainly belongs alongside Demaria on your all-16U team, and opposite Taylor Porter complements her well on the right pin. Both of these pin hitters carried big roles in serve receive, further adding to their greatness.
In a mirror image of Set 1, it was Houston Skyline that held a three-point advantage midway through Set 2. Setter Kassidy O’Brien was starting to find a rhythm, and that yielded some highlight moments from Ella Lewis on the left side and Bayleigh Minor in the middle. We were closing in on a third set.
A Final Wave of Momentum
Surfside responded to adversity and found an answer, just like it had done since arriving in Kansas City.
Demaria still loomed large in the Set 2 comeback, and fellow outside hitter Simone Roslon also terminated well. But serving and backcourt defense started to emerge as major storylines while Surfside rallied back. Libero Olivia Foye was a huge standout in this regard, as she performed all the skills you’d like to see from your libero. She literally shed a little blood in her pursuit of the ball.
Another ball control player, setter Isabella Jones, capped off the match with her own bout of strong serving. A winning ace sent Surfside 16 PV Legends into a frenzy as an improbable 16U championship run was complete.
by Chris Fitzgerald
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- For teams to make it to the championship of Triple Crown NIT, a few things have to come into play. Athletes need to stay healthy, there has to be some depth up and down the lineup, teams have to respond when calls don’t go there way, and sometimes there needs to be a little luck involved. This is the “March Madness” of volleyball. For Drive Nation, this group of athletes fell just short in 2022, finishing second to A5. However, in 2023 and four consecutive three set wins they gritted their way to be crowned champions of the NIT 18 Elite Division with a three-set win over Coast.
In set one it was all Coast, the team out of the San Diego area jumped out to a huge lead, 15-4, behind the likes of Oregon commit Noemie Glover and BYU commit in outside hitter Claire Little. In typical Drive Nation form, they chipped away, they didn’t panic. The final set score was 25-23 with Drive having plenty of momentum heading into set two where they would jump out to a quick lead, not looking back to win 25-19.
Opposite hitter and Boston College commit Samantha Hoppes said this group thrives under pressure.
“We thrive under the back against the wall situation. We love being under pressure and getting our competitive drive going. Especially in a third set we break it into mini-games trying to be the first team to five, to ten, and eventually 15,” said Hoppes.
In set three it was back and forth the whole way. With the score knotted up at seven, teams continued to trade points, no timeouts needed with no extended run until the last five points. Coast would force a timeout at 13-11 and had the clear momentum forcing a Drive Nation timeout. The Texas team did what they had done all day playing cool, calm, and collected to tie the game at 13, and the go on the last “mini” run of the game to take the match 16-14 in set three.
While the championship match had plenty of dramatics in set three, the semifinal match to get into the championship against Munciana 18 Samurai was unreal. Another back and forth third set where they even were up against match point, but somehow found a way to sneak out another victory 18-16 in set three.
“I think there is a little bit of luck involved. There are so many plays, so many calls, things will go your way, sometimes they won’t. We just continue to work really hard and stick to the process of getting these wins,” said Hoppes.
For all of these 18s, it’s the last hurrah for their prep volleyball careers. The wins are great, but the tone is a little bit different for these teams who are getting to play together one last time.
“A lot of these girls I’ve been playing with on my team have been together since we were ten years old. We’re ready to go to college but it’s a little bittersweet,” the senior said. “I think we’re sad to go, but we’re willing to give every little bit of grit in these tough games because we aren’t playing for ourselves, we are playing for each other.”
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – One thing about volleyball at the 12u level – there just seems to be a lot of room on the court between players.
That means keeping points alive long enough to do damage with finishing shots is an important concern, and the hustle was there from start to finish for the Excel National Red (Plano, TX) 12 squad, which bashed away Monday to earn the 12 Elite championship at the Triple Crown NIT event.
Blessed with a tall, rangy and aggressive lineup of hitters, Excel made it through with a two-set win over A5 (Georgia) and a three-set showdown with fellow Metroplex squad Mad Frog (18-25, 26-24, 15-11) before topping Mizuno Long Beach in the final, 28-26, 25-15.
In the title match, Excel trailed 17-10 in Set 1 before getting its roster in rhythm, going on a 10-0 run at that point, capped by a kill from Rhys Walker. Walker again handled the pressure late in the set with a block and kill; Excel closed the comeback with a kill from MC Crutcher and an ace by Anna Lukas, as her serve clipped the net and fell just over the other side.
“We had to just keep our energy up. We didn’t want to get down on ourselves; they were acing us a lot, and we just had to get it together,” said Skye Lincoln, arguably the team’s most persistent kills leader on the day. “We’ve got people who can get kills and or middles get the big blocks – it works when we are moving our feet quicker.”
In Set 2, Excel ended most of the drama early, taking an 8-1 lead on a kill from Lincoln. A couple of aces from Walker pushed the lead to 19-6, and the match concluded with a block from Reagan McDonald and a kill by Crutcher.
“I liked the resilience we showed as a team. We started with A5, a really good team, and we came out with an energy and a focus on our game,” said Excel coach Libby Shewski. “Against Mad Frog, it was a real dogfight to the finish. It was a huge mental victory for us. With this one, we started off a little shaky and had a bit of nerves, but I love the fact we wanted it even though we were down. Second set, we showed our true game and played it to that level.
Excel did a lot of things right, but the constant and overwhelming pressure put on the opposition via the serve jumped out throughout the final.
“Serving, we’ve been working on doing it aggressively, and you can make a lot of errors that way, and we struggled for the first two days,” Shewski added. “Today we got in the second the doors opened, girls were warming up with their serves, and we said find that aggressive serves and make it consistent. At 12’s, aggressive serves and good serve-receive is the name of the game.”
By Adam Burns
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Taylor Clarke and Skylar Jackson of Dallas Skyline didn’t quite reach the championship match of the Triple Crown NIT last year. But the two came close enough — while playing for a different club — that they had a solid feel for the insanity of Championship Monday.
This time around, Clarke and Jackson made the most of the moment in the 15s Elite Championship match, coming from behind to beat Southern California Volleyball Club in three sets (23-25, 25-23, 16-14) Monday afternoon inside the Kansas City Convention Center.
“It feels great to win because last year I got hurt on the second day and five of us got fourth last year, so we really wanted to improve that finish,” said Clarke, a 6-foot outside hitter for Skyline.
“Coming in we really wanted to win it,” said Jackson, a 5-foot-11 defensive specialist/outside hitter. “(SCVC) was really good; we just had to keep pushing through every single difficulty we had.”
Those difficulties included a first set loss that saw Skyline playing from behind for a majority of the time.
“We just had to play our game,” Clarke said of any adjustments they made after set No. 1. “We usually play the best when we start strong, so we just had to do that and set well and get the kill.”
Skyline started mighty strong in the second set, opening the with a 10-1 advantage on SCVC, with two kills and a pair of blocks from Clarke. But SCVC countered with an 11-3 stretch to cut the deficit to 13-11. Skyline, however, kept the slight advantage and help off to force a third and decisive set.
The final set was more of what one expects out of an NIT championship match — a back and forth from both sides — including strong play from SCVC outside hitters Audrey Flanagan, Sammy Destler and middle Taylor Boice, among others.
Skyline owned the largest meaningful advantage at 11-8 before SCVC gained a 13-12 lead, courtesy of a Flanagan kill. Clarke then registered back-to-back kills before Flanagan earned a loud solo block of Clarke to make it 14-all.
After a double hit call was enforced on SCVC, Skyline outside hitter Layla Austin hammered home a match winner.
“We’ve pushed through so many third sets and we’ve pushed through so many tight games,” Jackson said. “We needed to take a deep breath to be able to finish strong, and that’s what we did.”
SCVC, led by coach Jessica Doerner, finished the tournament 6-3. Flanagan led the Southern California squad with 10 kills, while Destler had 10 and Boice had six.
Clarke led Skyline’s attack with a match-high 12 kills. Middle/outside hitter Levariya Pinder supported with eight kills of her own.
Skyline coach Sangyong Yun said he was confident in his team’s ability to win the title match.
“I’m very happy for the girls,” he said after Skyline accepted the first-place trophy. “They worked very hard to get to this point and they deserve this. They worked hard at practice, and they never complain, so I’m very happy for them. … I believed in my team and trusted them and they trusted in me, too.”
By Kyle Koso
KANSAS CITY, Mo – There’s a lot of talk about balance and shared responsibility on volleyball teams.
And when the Texas Advantage 14’s are speaking on the topic, all you can do is nod in agreement as they file away another outstanding tournament finish.
Monday at the Triple Crown NIT, the TAV 14’s forced the issue by being forces of nature, rolling past fellow Texas club Drive Nation in the 14 Elite title match in straight sets, 25-12, 25-21. Starting with that dominant effort in Set 1 and extending into a second set that required a few moments of refocus and reflection, TAV had all the answers, putting this championship next to the one earned at the recent Tour of Texas to suggest this is a year for something special.
“We’re very disciplined in our defense, very focused, and our blocking is there. We did those things very well today,” said Brynn Stephens, who credited her multi-sport background for being so fluid at 6-foot-1 and had several overpowering kills, doing great work from the service line as well. “Our match earlier against OTVA (a three-set win in the quarterfinals) was a real eye-opener, and they really challenged us. We were consistent serving, and we knew if we did that tough it would be a big help.”
“Everybody on the team does their role, everyone is talented. That balances things out, and it keep the other team honest,” said Sophee Peterson, who had the final two kills of Set 1 and with Stephens handled the tasks at setter with essentially flawless results. “This match was amazing; I love playing with the girls and we always have each other’s backs. This team has always been good, we won nationals at 12’s and I’m just excited to see what we can do this year.”
Drive Nation got within 19-17 in Set 2 on an ace from Kaelee Berkley, but kills from Gentry Barker and Mariah Akinsola were well-timed and enough to stabilize the moment for TAV. Two kills from Barker pushed it to 23-20.
“This is a special group. Any number of kids can lead in kills for a match, and from a scouting standpoint, you can’t focus on one kid,” said TAV coach Josh McKinney. “We’ve told them, at this level, the best teams have to hold serve and get the sideouts when you get the opportunity. We did that in the first set, especially.
“We had to elevate this entire tournament. Arizona Storm was incredible, OTVA was incredible, and we were able to rely on the experience of playing those good teams when it was the final. We took a deep breath, and figured out how to move forward. We’ve got room to grow, but at this point of the season we couldn’t be any happier.”
By Kyle Koso
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – In most high-level volleyball match, something inevitably will go wrong.
But it’s much better to think of those episodes as “momentum changes” or “periods of adjustment” to fend off too many negative thoughts.
With the right mindset and a roster full of talented athletes eager to show their abilities, the NKYVC (Mason, OH) 17 Tsunami squad shook off the blues and shook up the battle for the 17 Elite title at the Triple Crown NIT on Monday by bounding past Orlando-Tampa Aaron in straight sets, 27-25, 25-20. The victory at the Kansas City Convention Center was a satisfying bit of closure for NKYVC, which took second place at 16’s at this event in 2022.
After earning impressive wins over Premier Nebraska and A5-Jing along the way, NKYVC took an early 18-12 lead over OTVA in Set 1 of the final, on an ace from the right arm of Julia Hunt (a commit to play for the Univ. of Washington). But OTVA responded with a furious effort on defense, keeping balls in the air and allowing its own fearsome group of hitters (led by Olivia Hart) to get loose – soon, OTVA had a 22-20 lead.
All the early hard work looked about ready to be pitched in the dumpster, but NKYVC reasserted its vision and polished off the set, with two aces from Sydney Barrett (Univ. of Denver) playing a huge role.
“We always try to keep our heads up, even if it’s not going our way. We’re not the biggest team out there, but when we are strong mentally we can do amazing things,” Hunt said. “When it’s going good for us, it’s going good for everybody. Everybody can set. Elizabeth (Tabeling, libero, off to Ball State) dug the ball every single play. We’ve got people who can get a kill on every single play. It felt amazing being with my team. Not everything is going to be perfect, so you have to be ready to adjust.”
“We all trust each other a lot and know how to stay relaxed in those situations. They started off a little slow and came back, which we expected,” said Barrett, who was the match’s dominant offensive force. “We had to be ready. All three positions in the front row can put the ball down for us, and the back row is great, too. We have a lot of pride in our club and for the name on the jersey. It means a lot to prove ourselves at this level.”
A kill from Lilly Gillespie (DePaul) put NKYVC up 3-2 in Set 2, and they would lead the rest of the way. Alivia Skidmore (Western Kentucky) did some impressive work on offense when NKYVC needed a boost or two, but there wasn’t much drama on the way to the finish line. A huge block from Lillian Hamburg made it 21-16, and NKYVC would not be slowed from their goals at that point.
“OTVA made a little run, we fell apart a bit in our ball control, and we talked about composure and making sure our responsibilities are in order. We’ve been doing that all weekend,” said NKYVC coach Mike Bryant. “What I’ve learned, they are very resilient in those moments. They’ve been playing together a while and their chemistry is just off the charts.
“They were really hungry to come back. The best part of the training we’ve done so far is what we’ve been emphasizing is showing up in the competitive opportunities. They’ve been on it, the quality touches, the efficiency, and they can see what our opponents want to do and are on top of that as well.”
By Adam Burns
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There were three messages.
The Coast Volleyball Club 16s shouted the first one during a pregame cheer. The second was a gentle reminder from coach Luis Cuatok prior to the action. And the third, also coming from Cuatok, came with their backs against the wall.
Coast players cheered “Don’t give up!” after warmups, just like they do prior to all matches. Little did they know how important it’d be for them to embrace that message during Sunday’s Elite Division Championship Bracket play at the Triple Crown Sports WNIT inside the Kansas City Convention Center.
Coming off an impressive straight set win over Alamo, Cuatok delivered the second message inside the pregame huddle.
“At the start of the match I reminded them that they knocked us out last year during JO’s,” he said. “It’s time to get them back.”
The “them” was Texas Advantage Volleyball and they came to play, claiming the first set 25-19. After a back-and-forth affair for much of the second set, TAV used a 6-0 run to take a 22-16 lead.
That’s when Cuatok preached the third message—this one a calm one during a timeout. The coach didn’t scream or call out mistakes. To Cuatok, this was the time to remind his players why they play in the WNIT.
“I know you’re frustrated,” Cuatok said he told his players. “This is good for us. We’re learning and we’re going to grow from moments like these.”
The message was well received.
Coast countered TAV’s run with an 8-1 swing to earn a 27-25 set win, forcing a third and final set in which Coast captured a 15-11 victory to clinch a spot in the quarterfinals of the Elite Division Championship Bracket.
“It feels great,” Coast outside hitter Ava Poinsett said. “Winning today gives us a lot of momentum going into tomorrow and more confidence. This was huge.”
Poinsett, a 6-foot outside hitter, acknowledged that this version of the Coast 16s is a “newer” team, but also noted how many of them have played in big tournaments with tough competition before, including the WNIT.
“A lot of us are used to the pressure and not worried about who might be watching us,” she said. “We’re confident and that helps at lot. Today was a really hard day, but we’ll use this experience and build on it, and, hopefully, all the way to the championship.”
Coast will take on Houston Skyline at 7:30 a.m. on Championship Monday in the quarterfinal round.
by Kyle Koso
The TC NIT Heart of Sport 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.
In 2023, it's our honor to salute Ron Kordes, club director at KIVA and head coach at Assumption High School in Louisville, Kentucky. His life’s work has been dedicated to the positive mental and physical growth of all players; we are grateful for Ron’s determination to give back time, energy, money and expertise to create the best possible atmosphere for each student-athlete.
When Ron Kordes began his volleyball coaching career, it’s not like he was ushered to the top spot with a bunch of handshakes and high-fives. No one else appeared to be interested in the job, and Kordes didn’t like the thought of his female middle-school students losing an option to experience what sports can do for a person.
Best intensions didn’t mean he had the best strategies right away; building skills in those neophyte athletes took primary concern over building a sparkling won-loss record. But over time, Kordes would prove to have the unique ability to elevate his programs while escalating the personal growth of his players.
Through his nearly 35 years of coaching at Assumption High School in Louisville, KY., and four decades of work honing the culture of excellence found in the Kentucky/Indiana Volleyball Academy (KIVA), Kordes has long been understood as one of the sport’s titans and today’s pockets yet another honor, earning the 2023 TC NIT Heart of Sport Award.
“I really just stumbled into volleyball and coaching; I had been playing adult rec volleyball, back when you played with eight people on the court,” said Kordes, who has won 22 state championships at Assumption to go with 17 national titles from his club squads. “A position opened up, they had no one, and since I’d enjoyed the sport, I said I’d try. I started out with what had been taught to me. There was a travel adult league, and several of those guys were pretty knowledgeable. Call it a crash course. Coaching 7th and 8th grade girls at that time, 40 years ago, we were just cavemen.
“I was one who was always looking to learn. Seeking out those who’d done it and were successful, going to clinics. When I got involved in club, you’re looking at the teams that are beating you … how are they doing that? How are they training for it? You have to have that thirst, and when you stop seeking out that knowledge, you come to a standstill and others pass you up. It’s true in any profession. You have to be willing to change things; it’s easy after you’ve has some success to think, this is the way to do it.”
Kordes showed the way with his empathetic but competitive process in coaching athletics, all in a very interesting time for female athletics. The first NCAA volleyball championship wasn’t even a topic until 1981, and coaches such as Kordes were on the front row of those who saw the untapped capacities of women in sport.
It was a considerable challenge when the dominant forces in culture had a hard time seeing women in that light.
“I was asked frequently by my friends, how can you be coaching girls? How can you like that? It was a question asked too many times to count,” Kordes said. “My answer was, I’ve always enjoyed it. One thing I learned, girls are very honest with you. Coaching young boys, you have to get around the macho (instinct), but with girls, you know where they stand. If they know you care about them, they are willing to do whatever you ask them.
“Their effort was no different than the guys. Girls going for the ball, crashing into a wall or through the fence, it’s very similar. To watch these girls, they got bigger and stronger. When I started, a 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4 girl, you’d be lucky if she could walk and not trip. Now, you see 6-7 girls playing six rotations. The athleticism has been there, just a process of tapping it, and they train much harder now. The desire, the mentality, has always been there. For my first three years of coaching, I worked with both, and when the time came to make a decision, it was very easy to go with the girls.”
All these decades later, volleyball is so wildly popular that some athletes turn away from the high-school experience because they want the persistent challenge and training that is assumed with club sports. Kordes, who has an imposing list of achievements in both club and prep settings, would prefer both doors stay open.
“Girls playing club, they are doing it for one primary reason, which is to make their high school team. That’s why you see so many 15’s and 16’s club teams, they’re fighting to make their varsity team in high school,” Kordes said. “I consider the club season to be a development season. In high school, you have the prize of a state championship to go for, something you compete for … yeah, you have it club. It comes down to one’s opinion. We are starting to see kids leave high school early, start college early, and I hate to see that happening. Seniors are missing out by not going through it, but I guess it’s a movement I have no control over, but I’m seeing it. Club is necessary for the recruiting; I’ve just enjoyed the blend, going back and forth.”
Kordes has at times expressed his concern for players who have to confront the pressure cooker of their volleyball settings, knowing just how intense the competition for playing time can be, and for the challenge of living up to previous KIVA and Assumption teams that have gone all the way.
In the end, there are ripple effects that come from suiting up that he has come to embrace, and it’s got pretty much nothing to do with who ends up holding trophies and banners.
“The one thing we’ve always talked about at KIVA and Assumption, is the ability to learn how to compete for what you want. When you quit playing volleyball, the life you’re heading into is very competitive,” he added. “Someone will want the same job as you; to be able to go after what you want without doubt and second thoughts, you just go and try. You won’t be successful all the time, but to not be afraid to go for what you want and to compete for it, is just a great trait you can take through life.”
ASSUMPTION HIGH SCHOOL
Head Coach – 34 years
State Championships – 22
National Championships – 6
AVCA National High School Coach of the Year - 2012
Prep Volleyball National Coach of the Year - 2005
Max Preps National Coach of the Year - 2018
Durango Fall Classic Championships - 6
Nike / Asics Challenge Tournament Championships - 14
Overall Won / Loss Record: 1,185-123
KENTUCKY INDIANA VOLLEYBALL ACADEMY (KIVA)
Club Coach - 40 years
Club Director – 23 years
AVCA Club Director of the Year - 2016
Kordes coached teams:
USAV National Championships - 4
AAU National Championships - 11
JVA National Championships - 2
Commissioner - Pioneer Region - 26 years
USAV CAP ll Certification
USOC Development Coach of the Year - 2005
JUNIOR VOLLEYBALL ASSOCIATION (JVA)
Original Board Member/Past President
National High School Hall of Fame - 2022
American Volleyball Coaches Hall of Fame - 2020
Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame - 2007
Dawhare's KHSAA High School Hall of Fame - 2018
Assumption High School Hall of Fame - 2004/2014
Louisville Catholic Sports Hall of Fame - 2013
Metro Athletic Directors Hall of Fame - 2002
WISH Foundation - Leader in Womens Sports - 2016
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – For the Skyline (Dallas) Royal 14’s, Sunday’s last task at the Triple Crown NIT was a tall order, in every aspect of the phrase.
Taking on a long, rangy and intimidating lineup from Austin Performance was the mission, with the reward being a spot in the 14 Elite semifinals of this event, arguably the most strenuous tournament on the club calendar. To Skyline’s credit, they moved their attacks around cagily and swung with a lot of purpose when it was their moment to shine, and it led to a stressful but satisfying 23-25, 25-15, 15-10 victory at the Kansas City Convention Center.
Skyline will take on Drive Nation in Monday’s semifinals at 8 a.m.
With Camille Presley and Allie Hudgins covering the net with springy enthusiasm, the Austin Performance unit went ahead as much as 22-15 in Set 1 and held off a late run by Skyline to take control. But Skyline asserted itself in Set 2, bolting forward from a tight 16-13 lead to score five straight points, a stretch that showed Ryan Spencer to be the cold-hearted closer every volleyball squad loves to deploy.
She has a sequence of three swings on the same point that ended up falling right for Skyline; Spencer added a tip and then one more kill to even the match.
“She’s a coach’s kid and has been in the gym since she was little, so she’s got an eye for the game,” said Skyline coach Mark Flores. “She’s taken all the little things to heart and knows what it takes to close it out.
“That first set, we were playing into the big kids, and we had to start making sure where they were. After a couple blocks, we realized (Hudgins) was going to block anything around her, and we did a good job of staying away. The girls were resilient – they were kind of phased after the first set, but they came back and made a match of it.”
Set 3 was tied at 7-all when Skyline took charge. Parker Horton drilled a kill, and then Spencer went off, including an ace to make it 12-8. Setter Abigale Cotton found Spencer in the back row for a resounding kill to make it 13-10 – Kate Cuppett rang up a kill to make it 14-10, and a final shot from Austin landed wide to seal the match.
“You just have to jump higher and have the mindset you can hit over them. If you know where to go, you can get the kills,” Cuppett said. “After the first set, coach said you can’t be afraid to make a mistake. It made me so excited and so happy to get that last kill; it really gave us the energy we needed for the final point.”
Spencer, who clearly was asked to be the primary offensive threat, didn’t let the responsibility distract her from executing, start to finish.
“I don’t really think about it – I really want to make sure my teammates have trust in me,” Spencer said. “When I do succeed, that makes me feel really good. That was a big team, but you’ve to stay strong with defense and serve receive. If you pass and serve receive, it makes a huge difference. We’ve just wanted to play good volleyball, win or lose, and fight for the wins.”
By Adam Burns
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As Alan Davis puts it, height doesn’t exactly equal a dynamic offensive attack.
That must be earned.
And Davis’ Adidas KIVA 18s squad is proving its offensive unit is indeed a force to be reckoned with at this weekend’s Triple Crown Sports WNIT at the Kansas City Convention Center.
Just four hours into the three-day WNIT on Saturday, the Louisville, Kentucky-based KIVA was sitting pretty at 3-0 and enjoying the view from atop the PowerC pool standings.
“We have not always been an explosive team during this team’s time together,” Davis said after KIVA’s three-set thrilling victory (25-19, 26-28, 15-8) over Mizuno Long Beach. “This team has always had height, but that does not always mean a fast offensive team or mobile or quick. We have spent a ton of time diversifying our offense and making us better and having players in multiple positions makes us that much better.
“They all need to play different roles,” he added. “We want our players to be good at everything. The best way to get better is to come in and practice the things that we need to improve.”
Even Texas commit Nya Bunton has contributed to diversifying the offense, shifting over from the outside to play as the team’s middle hitter. Bunton was thrilled with the team’s Day 1 efforts, which culminated with the win over Long Beach, which was 0-2 headed into the final match of pool play.
“You just never really know here,” Bunton said. “That’s why you always have to stay intense and be prepared. I’m glad we were able to execute and do our jobs. … We talked about how we were going to stay disciplined and intense all day. We executed our plan today and it was a really good start for us.”
Davis echoed Bunton’s sentiment.
“I’m really proud of them. We’ve been working really hard at getting better,” he said. “We’ve been working on improving confidence and their all-around game and it has taken some time. I’ve told them that no progress and no success ever comes without struggle. Every tournament we have gotten progressively better.”
Bunton is complemented by attacking counterparts Olivia Fish, a 6-2 outside hitter committed to Wake Forest, Gabrielle Dean, a 6-4 middle hitter bound four Illinois, and Gabrielle Gerry, a 6-5 middle hitter headed to South Carolina.
“It’s great to be able to spread out the offense and give everyone a chance to take a breather and make an impact,” Bunton said. “It’s good that we have multiple weapons and that we use them effectively.”
KIVA earned straight set victories to open the tourney, notching wins over Houston Skyline (25-23, 25-18) and Northern Lights (25-19, 25-20).
Bunton and the core of the KIVA 18s have their eyes on a championship run and improving their best WNIT showing — fourth place — from a few years back.
“It’d mean everything to get to the championship match,” Bunton said. “That’s the goal.”
By Adam Burns
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Jordyn Harvey and Club V have certainly been here before. But Harvey and this year’s 18-year-old Club V squad received their first dose of the Triple Crown Sports WNIT on Saturday inside the Kansas City Convention Center.
“I love Triple Crown,” said Harvey, who’s committed to Stanford. “All my friends are here and I get to play with them and against them, and I love how the power pools are set up as you get to play and see great competition all weekend.”
Club V coach Reed Carlson agreed with his 6-foot-1 outside hitter.
“I love the format of the pool play; it’s fantastic,” Carlson said. “We get to play the toughest teams on Day 1. What other place does that? Today we get to see three different styles of volleyball, which is great. It’s been really close and competitive.”
In Harvey’s third and final WNIT experience — but first in power pool play — Club V dropped its first match in a three-set heartbreaker to Drive Nation before knocking off A5 Volleyball Club (Marc) in three sets (23-25, 25-18, 15-10) in R1 PowerA action. Club V dropped its final pool match in straight sets to MAVS KC.
“For us, it comes down to consistency,” Carlson said. “We came here to have a day like today where we play (the tough competition) at Triple Crown. We’ll build as we get more of these types of matches. The talent is obviously there and we do a good job of wanting to compete against those teams.”
In the win against A5, Club V, of course coming off the tough loss in its tourney opener, relied on the powerful attacking offense, fueled by Harvey, outside hitters Olivia Ruy — an Arkansas commit — and Taliah Lee — a Long Beach State commit — setter Sophie Wendt (Colorado Mesa) and liberos Kambree Rodriguez (Utah State) and Kaieva Johnson (Utah).
But it took a comeback effort to notch its first power pool win. After dropping the first set 25-23, Club V found its rhythm and turned the intensity up a notch—including an 8-1 start to the third set.
“They are the more athletic team,” Harvey said of A5. “But I think our ball control, our hustle on defense and we have that grit that other teams don’t have. That’s what we push hard no matter what.”
“We work hard at having options and finding different ways to score points,” Carlson said. “If we’re not in system, we still want to run fast and create chaos. They’ve done a good job of doing that so when we come here, we’re not lost in the speed.
“For us, it comes down to consistency,” the coach added. “We came here to have a day like today where we play (the tough competition) at Triple Crown. We’ll build as we get more of these types of matches. The talent is obviously there and we do a good job of wanting to compete against those teams.”
by Kyle Koso
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Electric in every moment, composed in the big picture, and confident about how to maintain that tricky balance – it’s proving to be a potent mix for the TStreet 14 Carson volleyball squad.
The California-based program is brewing up as a hefty challenger for the title as the 2023 Triple Crown NIT plays out at the Kansas City Convention Center, with TStreet going 3-0 on Saturday in power-pool play. They wrapped up their early run with a resounding 25-11, 25-14 victory over Legacy (Mich.) and are one of five teams to get through Day 1 unscathed (joining Arizona Storm, Austin Performance, Skyline Royal and Texas Advantage.
“We’ll take this great start and just hope to keep rolling. One of our biggest strengths is staying calm when things get weird – the leaders of the team start that vibe,” said TStreet head coach Carson Tanner.
Indeed, when TStreet faced the occasional moments of tension, there was almost no wobble at all, with setter Gabriella Souza constantly directing the ball to the best-positioned player to make things right. For most points, those kills shots came from the differing angles of 6-foot-2 middle Megan Hodges and 5-8 outside hitter Ella Olson.
“Souza is an amazing setter and will take any type of ball and make a play out of it,” Tanner added. “All the hitters know to be ready for the set.”
That road map helped TStreet settle in at the finish after watching a 16-6 lead tighten up to 16-13.
“Our team has a really good connection; I’ve been with them since we were 12, and we have a huge bond together,” said Hodges, who made some clever tips but really did damage in the middle, attacking crisply off Souza’s sets. “A point is important, but we don’t let an error on our part make everything feel wrong. We try to use it to get better.
“It’s great (controlling the middle). It’s such an amazing feeling to get that perfect block, the perfect time, and the ball goes straight down.”
TStreet took a 16-6 lead as well in Set 1 and never flinched, sweeping up the set on some Legacy miscues. In Set 2, Hodges had a block and a kill to reset the score to 18-14; an ace from Alexis Link made it 23-14, and a noisy kill from Olson brought it match point with TStreet wrapping it up on an opponent’s error.
“We know we can get out of (trouble), we’ll get it back – we’ve built that trust in each other. This shows our hard work is paying off and our ‘A’ game is pretty much the best in the country,” Olson said. “This was a good warm-up day and we’re only going to get better.”
Olson is one of those unique volleyball athletes, showing up on the outside giving up several inches to most players. But her vertical jump is eye-catching, and coupled with a very violent arm swing, it’s a lot to deal with for defenses.
“My brother is going to Pepperdine; I watched him grow by getting in the gym. He’s about 6-foot tall, as an (opposite hitter), I saw his vertical go up like crazy,” she said. “That got me going to the gym, waking up before school, going before practice, and I think that helped me a lot.”