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.”