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.”