KANSAS CITY, Mo. – For the Skyline (Dallas) Royal 14’s, Sunday’s last task at the Triple Crown NIT was a tall order, in every aspect of the phrase.
Taking on a long, rangy and intimidating lineup from Austin Performance was the mission, with the reward being a spot in the 14 Elite semifinals of this event, arguably the most strenuous tournament on the club calendar. To Skyline’s credit, they moved their attacks around cagily and swung with a lot of purpose when it was their moment to shine, and it led to a stressful but satisfying 23-25, 25-15, 15-10 victory at the Kansas City Convention Center.
Skyline will take on Drive Nation in Monday’s semifinals at 8 a.m.
With Camille Presley and Allie Hudgins covering the net with springy enthusiasm, the Austin Performance unit went ahead as much as 22-15 in Set 1 and held off a late run by Skyline to take control. But Skyline asserted itself in Set 2, bolting forward from a tight 16-13 lead to score five straight points, a stretch that showed Ryan Spencer to be the cold-hearted closer every volleyball squad loves to deploy.
She has a sequence of three swings on the same point that ended up falling right for Skyline; Spencer added a tip and then one more kill to even the match.
“She’s a coach’s kid and has been in the gym since she was little, so she’s got an eye for the game,” said Skyline coach Mark Flores. “She’s taken all the little things to heart and knows what it takes to close it out.
“That first set, we were playing into the big kids, and we had to start making sure where they were. After a couple blocks, we realized (Hudgins) was going to block anything around her, and we did a good job of staying away. The girls were resilient – they were kind of phased after the first set, but they came back and made a match of it.”
Set 3 was tied at 7-all when Skyline took charge. Parker Horton drilled a kill, and then Spencer went off, including an ace to make it 12-8. Setter Abigale Cotton found Spencer in the back row for a resounding kill to make it 13-10 – Kate Cuppett rang up a kill to make it 14-10, and a final shot from Austin landed wide to seal the match.
“You just have to jump higher and have the mindset you can hit over them. If you know where to go, you can get the kills,” Cuppett said. “After the first set, coach said you can’t be afraid to make a mistake. It made me so excited and so happy to get that last kill; it really gave us the energy we needed for the final point.”
Spencer, who clearly was asked to be the primary offensive threat, didn’t let the responsibility distract her from executing, start to finish.
“I don’t really think about it – I really want to make sure my teammates have trust in me,” Spencer said. “When I do succeed, that makes me feel really good. That was a big team, but you’ve to stay strong with defense and serve receive. If you pass and serve receive, it makes a huge difference. We’ve just wanted to play good volleyball, win or lose, and fight for the wins.”