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.