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.