DALLAS, TEXAS (July 4, 2008)
NorCal 16-1 Black (Pleasanton, Calif.) defeated Cincy Classics 16 Red (Liberty Township, Ohio) to win the 16 National Division gold medal with a 25-20, 18-25, 15-11 victory in the title match. NorCal 16-Black, which dropped only a first-round pool match to Ozark Juniors 161, defeated St. Louis CYC 16 Green (St. Louis, Mo.) 25-22, 25-11 in the quarterfinals and Mizuno M1 161 (Minnetonka, Minn.) 25-21, 25-22 in the quarterfinals. Cincy Classics 16 Red topped Imi Ike Aven (Honolulu, Hawai’i) 26-24, 16-25, 17-15 in the quarterfinals before handing Nike Six Pack 16 (Cedar Falls, Iowa) a 25-20, 21-25, 15-11 loss in the semifinals.
This year’s USA Junior Olympic Girls’ Volleyball Championships included 9,500 athletes from 788 teams. The tournament crowned 19 champions in age divisions ranging from 12-18. Open Division titles were disputed for the 14s, 15s, 16s, 17s and 18s, while National Division and American Division contested championships for all seven age groups.
The USA Junior Olympic Girls’ Volleyball Championships added an estimated $15.5 million to the Dallas economy. With an anticipated total attendance of 40,000 from participants, coaches and fans, the event has set record hotel bookings. The 10-day event was at the Dallas Convention Center and the tournament was played in the nation’s largest column-free exhibit hall. A total of 48 volleyball courts occupied one third of the Dallas Convention.
16 NATIONAL ALL TOURNAMENT TEAM
Name - Team
(MVP) Nicole Baker - NorCal 16-1 Black
Emily Averback - Cincy Classics 16 Red
Morgan Broekhuis - Colorado Jrs 16 Sherri
Rachel Eberhard - NorCal 16-1 Black
Kristen Hahn - Nike Six Pack 16
Katie Klages - St. Louis CYC 16 Green
Amanda Konetchy - Mizuno M1 16-1
Koala Matsuoka - Imi Ike Aven
Lauren Rohifs - Cincy Classics 16 Red
Rebekah Saugen - Mizuno M1 16-1
Devin Shaver - NorCal 16-1 Black
Erin Short - Ohio Elite 16 VBC
Heidi Splinter - Nike Six Pack 16
Tracy Striebich - Cincy Classics 16 Red
Megan Tapia - Colorado Jrs 16 Sherri
Written by John Tawa
Saturday, 05 July 2008
It was late April and NorCal 16-1 Black was in a dire situation. The team had tried twice to qualify for the Junior Olympic National Championships in the past month but a tie for 9th place in Spokane and a tie for 5th place at the SCVA Qualifier in Anaheim was no ticket to Dallas. Knowing that earning a bid in the western region was problematic in tough Northern California, NorCal gave it one last shot at the Far Western Qualifier in Reno. And, pulling out all the stops, the team even brought along the 15-1 team’s good luck charm, a plastic rat mascot a mom had acquired in Las Vegas.
The team went to Reno with a tremendous amount of focus and played so well that it found itself late Sunday evening playing in an empty convention center against an excellent Texas Advantage 16 Molten team, with a bid in the American division clinched, needing one more win to win Club and land in the more prestigious National division. Down 14-9 in Game 3, NorCal managed to score seven straight rat-inspired points to seal the National bid.
“From that point on I knew we had a chance to do some really great things,” said NorCal coach Keegan Cook. “That was the turning point of the season.”
On Saturday in Dallas, NorCal did the greatest thing it could do in volleyball. It defeated Cincy Classics in three sets to win the Junior Olympic 16 National Division and earned the right to be called “national champions.”
“What a great season!” exclaimed MB Grace Vickers, once she picked herself off the floor following the emotional win. “We were seen as an underdog at first and weren’t expected to do anything here. Some people thought it was a miracle that we even got here. It’s really nice to be the champions.”
A team that played in the Club division all year, NorCal won the championship by defeating three traditional Open teams: A5 and M1 in the preliminaries before besting Classics in the final.
Classics, which almost qualified for Open at the Northeast Qualifier with a fourth-place finish, was by far the biggest challenge. In A5 and M1, powerful NorCal faced physical teams it could outslug. Classics, led by lithe libero Emily Averbeck, was a smaller, ball control team that relied on defense, speed and a never-say-die attitude to succeed.
It was evident that NorCal was nervous as Game 1 got underway. They handed Classics two points on service errors and yielded kills to Sabrina Lemmink and Kate Eckels to get behind quickly.
NorCal composed itself and scored three straight, one on a Vickers tip assisted by setter Devin Shaver and two from left-side attacker Rachel Eberhard, to knot the score at 4-4.
The teams traded points and the lead until the game got into the teens. Eberhard was NorCal’s big gun on the left, while back court mates Jamie Douglas, Molly Ratto and Kathryn Osborne matched Classics’ defensive intensity. Setter Lauren Rohlfs and MB Tracy Striebich were connecting well for the Cincy kids.
Tied at 13-13, NorCal went on a three-point run that gave the Pleasanton based club its biggest lead to that point. Ratto’s ace and a tip kill from OH Nicole Baker, set up by a sweet dig from Akemi Inouye, were instrumental.
Trailing 16-13, Eckels scored on a slide coming out of a time out to pull Classics within two, but Vickers returned the favor, taking a Shaver set and one-footing the ball into the open court to restore the three-point lead. When Baker followed with a tool shot, NorCal had a comfortable margin it would not relinquish, regardless of how many great saves Averbeck authored in the Classics back row. Shaver scored twice late, including the clincher, in the decisive 25-20 win.
A kill from Lemmink and ace from Anna Prickel helped Classics forge ahead early in the second set. Classics kept the lead throughout, thanks to the hitting and blocking of Striebich and Annie Juenger and a ton of NorCal mistakes, as the California team appeared to be trying to be perfect against the fast and sure Classics defense. Trailing by as many as five, NorCal pulled to within three thanks to nice work at the net by Malina Keaton and some help from the scorer’s table, as the refs doing the scoring forgot to credit Classics with a point (and we thought only players made those mistakes…).
Classics overcame the adversity on a kill from Prickel, set up by a nice Brittany Rohrkasse dig, which sparked a four-point closing run that gave Classics the 25-18 win and sent the teams to a third and deciding set.
Game 3 started ominously for Classics as Baker’s dribble ace put the Cincinnati team quickly behind. A hitting error and second Baker service winner increased NorCal’s advantage to three.
Classics might have suffered another ace at the hand of Baker but for Averbeck’s great pass, which led to a Juenger kill that got Classics on the board. Eckels and Lemmink followed with strikes of their own to knot the set at three.
The set remained tight until Vickers unloaded on a kill that put NorCal on top 7-6. NorCal added four of the next five points, including a huge swing from Eberhard and a slide from Vickers, to take an 11-7 lead into the late stages.
Classics scored two straight to make it interesting, getting one point on a NorCal hitting error that only resulted because Prickel made a kamikaze dive to dig up a tip attempt. NorCal regrouped on the next point, getting a pinpoint pass from Ratto, who was a standout in serve-receive, a sweet set from Shaver and the finish from Baker, which earned NorCal the sideout. Osborne’s tough serving helped NorCal score twice more to get on the cusp of the title, leading 14-9.
Striebich scored on a setup from Rohlfs, who served an ace subsequently, as Classics refused to go quietly. Classics had rallied from a seemingly insurmountable deficit to win a quarterfinal with Imi Ike. There was no reason they couldn’t do it again.
Except Shaver had other ideas.
The physical, 5-11 setter took matters into her own hands for NorCal, dumping the pass straight down to complete the NorCal dream.
Classics coach Nicole Salisbury said that her team’s heart and defensive prowess could not make up for a lack of size against taller NorCal.
“Defensively we did a nice job but we weren’t able to put the ball away,” she explained. “They pulled their middle back defender up on us, which allowed us to have a hard time terminating in key situations. We fought hard in the second game and were able to execute our strategy of improving our passing and spreading the ball out to the pins. But the fact that they’re taller really affected our hitting strategy.”
Cook was thrilled with the win, especially because Classics’ tough defense forced NorCal into its worst hitting performance in several matches.
Best of all for Cook, the win was rodent free, even though Vickers said, “We had the rat in our heart.”
“I was never a big fan of the rat but it was there in Reno and helped, I guess, get us that big win,” the coach said. “Several teams brought it along [to Dallas] and they wanted to bring it to our court. I didn’t want it because I felt like we were playing really well and didn’t feel we needed that thing around to win this.”
Turns out, he was right.
Learn more about Pleasanton based NorCal Volleyball Club at www.norcalvbc.com
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