Prep Volleyball Article on Storm
Arizona Storm 16 Thunder needed all 20 of
Khalia Lanier’s kills to overcome big-blocking and motivated TAV
16 Black, 26-24, 25-21, to win the 16 Open national championship
Thursday afternoon in Minneapolis. With the win, Storm, which
lost just once to a 16s team all season, repeated as USAV age
group national champions one year after bringing home the
Arizona Region’s first-ever Open title.
Lanier, PrepVolleyball.com’s National Sophomore of the Year,
said that this one was more challenging.
“It’s so much harder to try to live up to everyone’s
expectations,” said Lanier, daughter of NBA Hall of Famer Bob
Lanier. “I think we did an amazing job.”
Storm was 8-0 heading into Thursday morning’s semifinal versus
Madfrog, but had thrice been taken to three sets, including by
Rancho Valley, which won the first set of the do-or-die
quarterfinal match the night before.
“That was a huge wake-up call but I was confident in our team
and knew we would turn it around,” said Storm setter Katie
Oleksak. “ I knew that Madfrog could do the same, which is why
we had to stay consistent.”
“We said, ‘Hey! If we really want this we’re going to have to
fight to the end and take our game to the next level,’” added
libero Kamryn Hill.
Trailing 2-1 early in Game 1 to Madfrog, which finished tied for
third as 14s and 15s, Storm went ahead, 8-3, on a 6-0 run served
by MB Lauren Stivrins. AZ Storm extended its lead to 15-7 on a
block by Justine Spann and kill from Willow Johnson. Madfrog
never got closer than six points the rest of the way. Spann’s
kill, which completed the 25-18 win, had Storm switching sides
leading one set to zero.
Khallia Lanier challenges the
block of the 10-6 touching Jada Burse
in the 16 Open finals. Lanier had
20 kills in two sets against TAV’s
massive and supremely athletic
front court to help AZ Storm repeat
Game 2 was close early but Storm eventually
pulled away, sweeping, 25-17, on a thundering front slide from
Claire Embry and Jill Duffin, who both made the all-tournament
team, played credibly in defeat for Madfrog, which was doomed
but its inability to convert first-contact kills.
“We just didn’t serve-receive well,” said
Frog coach Pacific Conanan. “We were constantly out of system.
They are very scrappy. Against that team you have to be able to
put the ball away on the first contact. We didn’t have it
Asked if he was satisfied with the third-place medal, PC said
“It’s okay; it’s not what I wanted for this team because it has
finished third the past three years. That’s not what we want. At
the end of the day you still love and cheer for them. They tried
their best. It just was not our day today.”
Texas Advantage, unappreciated all year, reached the final by
defeated Northern Lights in straight sets. TAV’s massive block,
keyed by 6-5 Imani Davis and 6-3 Darrielle King, really bothered
Lights, which barely qualified for Open but showed late-season
improvement by tying for third at AAUs then winning its pool
After losing Game 1, 25-17, Northern Lights fell behind 11-5 in
Game 2 after a Megan Duncan kill for TAV then rallied to tie at
11-11 on the serve of Hannah Angelli. Allena Heath scored for
TAV to end the 6-0 run, but Lights had momentum and, behind the
passing and defense of Natalie Haben and hitting ofBrittany
McLean and Ashley Brueggeman, built a 23-19 lead, two points
from an anything-can-happen third set.
TAV had other ideas, however. Duncan scored to get Geoff
Kiessling’s team within 23-20. A block from King and two more
Duncan smacks followed. TAV, getting strong defense from Tarin
Mergener, had tied the set up!
Brueggeman, who played for Alamo in San Antonio last club season
before moving to Minnesota , scored to give Lights set point and
should have had a swing to send the match to three sets. But the
Minnesota team mishandled a free ball and Heath took advantage,
pounding home the overpass to send the match to extra points.
After OH Chloe Dousette, playing on a bum ankle injured earlier
in the match, gave Lights another set point with a great angle
shot, Heath scored again to tie the game. A Lights hitting error
and block from Davis and Chandler Atwood put TAV into the
“It is really disappointing,” said Northern Lights coach Lynne
McDonald. “To not be able to pull it out is like a dagger. It
made them sad instead of proud of what they’ve done.”
As Storm and TAV warmed up for their finals clash, Madfrog’s
Conanan suggested there was only one way any team could defeat
“You have to be able to play with them point for point and get a
mini run to get over the hill,” he said.
Though Storm’s players took the floor with gold glitter
shimmering in their hair, they were not at all looking past the
team from Texas.
“We went to three last year with TAV the first match of
Nationals,” Oleksak explained. “They look like a way better team
this year. I’m excited to play them.”
Playing before a packed house, including USC head coach Mick
Haley and Texas head coach Jerritt Elliott, two of only about 20
college coaches who decided to stick it out to the end (Wake
Forest, Harvard, Tale, Tulsa, Fresno State, among others), Storm
yielded the first point to TAV on a setting error, then scored
four of the next five, on kills from Spann and Lanier and blocks
from Stivrins and Hannah Combs, to take a 4-2 lead. The lead was
9-4 after three more Lanier kills and great defense at the net
from Oleksak and behind the 10-foot line from Hill, before TAV,
which came into the final sporting a 60-11 overall record, made
That move came in the form of the big-blocking King, a long
athletic dynamo in the middle who plays much bigger than her
listed height of 6-3. King had three solo blocks and added a
kill and both Duncan and Heath contributed scoring swings as
Texas Advantage closed to within 13-12. Oleksak’s great set to
Lanier slowed TAV’s momentum but did not stop it. Another King
kill and another King block tied the set at 16s.
TAV wasn’t done and used kills from Duncan and King, set up by
Jordan Fate, one of two setters TAV used along with Claire
Schwettmann, to take its first lead since 1-0. Two Heath kills
gave Texas Advantage its last lead at 22-21, but TAV simply
could not stop Lanier. Her ninth kill of the set tied things at
22-22 and her tenth, an absolute bomb, gave Storm set point at
TAV tied up Storm on a Davis kill assisted by Schwettmann, but a
Lanier tip, her 11th kill of the game, gave AZ Storm the lead
once more. Spann’s well-disguised tip helped Storm escape with
the 26-24 win.
Alyssa Chisholm serving and digging, Storm thundered to a 5-0
lead to start Game 2, getting two kills from Spann and a
Stivrins block as part of the run. TAV could have raised the
white flag then and there but did not. With libero Taylor Murata
selling out to keep the ball up and Duncan, King, Davis and
Gabby Howard scoring, TAV rallied from down six to get within a
deuce at 13-11.
Lanier, who had been quiet to that point in Game 2, with only
two kills, came alive with a shot from the back row then a
strike way over the block to give Storm some breathing room.
Oleksak, who would earn tournament MVP honors, was brilliant
with her deceptive sets and sprawling to cover tips to the
middle of the court.
TAV would not go away, however, and used a kill and laser ace
from Atwood, two King kills and block fromJada Burse to get
within 20-17. TAV should have cut the lead by one more, but a
net violation bailed out Storm, which got kills from Johnson and
Spann to lead late, 23-19.
Atwood and Davis scored in the closing moments for TAV, which
would have been fine had Texas Advantage been able to stop
Lanier. Her 19th kill, an absolute howitzer, gave Storm four
championship points at 24-20. Two points later, Lanier’s twisted
wrister down the line delivered back-to-back titles for the
“Lanier. Ridiculous! There’s just no stopping her,” said
“I don’t know that they played their best and we didn’t take
advantage,” he added.
“We were composed the entire time,” said Storm coach Teri Spann.
“Bottom line, we came here to win. I’m just excited that we did
it. We had a lot of tough matches but we were able to look back
at the past, remember that good feeling and take care of
business when it mattered most.”
“Last year meant so much,” said Hill. “We never thought we could
do it. We hoped that we could this year. We had a huge target on
our back. We tried hard, played our hearts out and, when we did
it, it was the same exact feeling. I want to feel that each
Lanier, who finished with 20 kills, credited the coaches and her
teammates for her strong performance.
“With my team rooting for me and all of us playing for each
other we knew we had to come out strong and on fire,” she said.
“So I tried my best. They supported me and I supported them.”
Lanier’s kills came on a variety of swings and tips. She showed
power and the touch that comes from hours of training.
“We work on the line shots that were really successful that game
and those tips – going up hard and deciding to tip at the last
second – really worked,” she said. “We trained so hard,
especially at the end we were going five times a week. It’s paid
off and we’re going for a third one next year.”
“We have a lot of work to do,” said Spann when asked what’s left
for this team to accomplish. “There are so many girls in this
class that are playing up who are phenomenal. Every year we have
to keep working hard and training. The one advantage we have is
the bond we have together. These girls like playing with one
another and embrace every moment they have together.”