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.”