"...With the tie-breaker, I think that’s what you train for, that’s why you love AAU Nationals, that’s why we’re here.”, Coach Dan Dierking.
It was a short Day 2 at AAU Nationals in 16 Open for the number-one overall seed, A5 161 Gabe, who made quick work of the only three-team pool of the day. KIVA 16 Red got within two points of A5 in the second set against them, but Nebraska Juniors 16 Black earned its one win against KIVA (25-22, 25-19) to advance to Gold with A5.
In a four-day tournament, a day with one less match seems to be the advantage offered to the top seed lucky enough to be matched up in a three-team pool.
On the opposite end of playing two matches and ending at 11 AM in Pool A, Pools J and K played extended sets and each pool would have to play a tie-breaker set to 25 points to determine the final place finishes for the day. In Pool J, four of the six matches went to three sets and by the end of Wednesday’s pool play, there was a three-way tie where each team was 2-1.
FaR out 16 Black earned the bye and first-place spot in the pool because it had the best set percentage with just two set losses. That meant that Lexington United 16 Adidas and NORCO 16 Black would play off for second. What was on the line was a place in Gold. Win and move up; lose and move down.
LexU beat NORCO in pool play earlier in the day after coming back from a hefty deficit in the opening set (12-25, 25-22, 15-11). NORCO’s Alexis Stuckey was great at the end of the match and scored the final two points for the Colorado team. Unfortunately, its final point was at 21 and LexU’s Abby Shadwick gave her team game-point when Emma Shadwick and Reagan McLean teamed up for a block to win the crucial set (25-21).
On the next court over, another three-way tie in Pool K was underway. SynergyForce 16 National, the pool’s third seed, had the best set percentage and waived its need to play off for a place in the Gold bracket. Instead, TPV 16 Alpha and Top Select 16 Elite Hans played.
The two teams had just finished playing and TPV won the crucial third set to force a tie at all. If Top Select had won, that would have placed them in first and SynergyForce in second. But, TPV held on to win (23-25, 25-18, 15-10).
TPV coach Dan Dierking said, “I think the beauty of it is that this tournament is so deep and there are so many great teams, great players, great coaching. For us, it’s a great learning opportunity. For these girls to be in these situations, you have to fight for every single match. It’s knowing that we got beat by a really good Synergy team and we had to turn around with our backs against the wall and, kudos to our girls and kudos to Top Select; they played a great, great match. With the tie-breaker, I think that’s what you train for, that’s why you love AAU Nationals, that’s why we’re here.”
TPV came out hot and there seemed to be no slowing down the energy or momentum TPV created from the bench and on the court. Standout performances by setter Claire Wilson, libero Morgan Carter, and middle Jaida Clark gave TPV a great lead as it reached game-point. Shaye Eggleston got the call for the final set when she put it away to close the game to advance to Gold (25-16).
“I don’t know if it was high-pressure, but it was more of what was on the line,” continued Dierking. I think that they have an invested goal to go as high as they can in this tournament and they know they have to do what’s asked of you and what’s put in front of you in a win-or-go-home situation. I think they stepped up and I’m really proud of them.
“Our expectation here is to learn how to compete at all times. Especially with us being young, we have a lot of learning, a lot of growth, and sometimes that comes in times when we have a bad match, we have a great match. For these girls to be in these situations match after match is everything we want for the future for them, but also it means, again, that it’s a compliment to the National tournament on how great the teams are that are here.”
SPVB 16 Elite lost its first set of the tournament to Illini Elite 16 Cardinal but recovered to maintain its overall second seed in the tournament. Hive 16 Gold, who entered the tournament as a top seed, fell to fourth in SPVB’s pool, but with a gritty performance on Day 2, it overcame its position to advance to the next round of Gold.
Munciana Ninjas, Northern Lights 16-1, and A5 are the only three teams without a set loss, though there are several more who haven’t lost the more important category, a match: 1st Alliance 16 Silver, A5 South 161 Jason, MiElite 16 Mizuno, OT 16 O. Roberto, and Tri-State Elite 16 Blue.
OT warded off a loss in the opening match of the day against a physical Club V 16 Ren Andrew team. After starting the match “horribly” (says coach Roberto Santasofia) in set one when they lost by just two points, the team got back on track to follow the game plan.
He said, “Everyone was on the same page after the first set. And starting game three like that… that win will really help us today.”
OT won with great persuasion against Club V (25-27, 25-14, 15-2) to get one win out of the way. After losing its next first set, OT played in yet another three-set match against Academy 16E Yeti but held on in the third set to win (17-25, 25-17, 15-8) before sweeping Vaqueras 16 Dewid. Club V took second in the pool for the nod to Gold.
Dunes 16 Black had one of the more impressive days of battle going 3-0 in a tough pool with No. 41 Sky High Adidas 16 Black, Carolina Rogue 16, and Asics Willowbrook 16 Gold.
Sky High, the seventh overall seed, is a talented team who plays with strong players such as Peyton O’Brien and two superb lefties in Emma Konie and Jenna Splitt. Dunes opened the match with the first set win and Sky High won the next to force a third set.
In the third, Dunes held strong to the lead at 10-6 on a block by Talyn Watkins and Paige Conklin. Sky High libero Sam Naber robbed Dunes of plenty of scoring opportunities as Dunes’ own Katherine Schmitt continuously stepped into the seam on defense.
With the Dunes match-point at 14-11, Sky High scored two to close the gap on blocks by Splitt and Madeline Timmerman. After a Dunes time-out, Emily Rastovski came out to finish the match with a monster kill. Dunes came from the fourth seed to the top one in the pool; Sky High also advanced.
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