The Ridgecrest Purple Starlings 14-year old Purple team won a grueling 3-day International Tournament in San Diego this weekend.
The first day of the tournament was pool play at the Balboa Park Facility. Fortunately the temperature was mild so the inside was only uncomfortably warm (last year the place was a Sauna).
The Starlings faced Oak hills in the First Match. There was no idea as to the quality of the competition as teams were placed in each pool seemingly randomly.
The first game was a decisive 25-10 win by the Purples with Jazmine Stenger-Smith leading with 9 serves and 1 ace, followed by 7 serves and 12 aces by Michaela Metcalf.
The Starlings followed up with another decisive victory lead by Becca Stoffel with 10 serves and 1 ace and solid defense by Libero Grace Tesdall
The Purples then faced Daly City in the Second Match. The first game was another decisive victory (25-8) lead by Bridget Ingle with 8 serves and 4 aces and strong play by Brooke Nelepovitz. 6 of Daly City’s points came off Starlings service errors. The coaches kept saying “now’s the time to get the service errors out of the way, we can’t do this later”. The second game was another 25-10 victory with 5 of Daly City’s 10 points coming off Starlings’ service errors. The Starlings were dominating play and were encouraged to experiment with serving so the errors were acceptable.
The Third Match was against Oceanside and featured Barthol as the substitute coach. The Starlings really dominated play again winning 25-8. Allie Sliva was the hot server with 9 serves and 3 aces with Becca Stoffel adding 2 kills. There were only 3 service errors. The second game featured 5 Starlings service errors, due mostly to experimentation as the Starlings shot out to a 10-2 lead behind strong serving by Jazmine Stenger-Smith, great net presence by Michaela Metcalf and Bridget Ingle and solid defense by Libero Grace Tesdall.
The 3-0 Match record placed the Starlings in the upper division of the tournament among the top 24 of the more than 50 teams. This figured to be stronger competition as it was pool play against all the 1st and 2nd place finishers of Day 1.
Day 2 started with the usual Starlings 9 am fog, which was now noticeable due to the stiffer competition.
The Starlings faced Santa Ana in the first Match. Santa Ana had some tall players who tipped quite a bit. The Purples struggled early, getting behind by a few points but rallied around Michaela Metcalfs strong serving with 7 serves and 3 aces, some solid defensive play by Libero Grace Tesdall, and some good battling at the net by Bridget Ingle. With only 3 service errors, the Starlings pulled out at 25-23 victory. Game 2 featured some very solid play by the Purples—in fact both teams played quite well. Lead by Brooke Nelepovitz’s 8 serves and 2 aces, some solid play by Allie Sliva and only 1 service error, the Starlings went on to win 25-21. This was one of the few (fortunately) cases were there were 2 obvious missed calls by Up Ref (both the Line Judge and the Down Ref agreed)—both against the Starlings. However, the Starlings hung in to win.
The Starlings then faced a very mobile Navajo Bob team. Game 1 was a close 25-23 victory, with both teams on their toes. Allie Sliva lead with 6 serves and 2 aces and strong play at the net by Bridget Ingle paved the way to a Purple Victory.
The second game featured the highlight play of the entire tournament: Libero Grace Tesdall made a diving save on a ball that was very well hit by the Navajo Bob team. Grace’s save sent the ball spinning high up in the air, with the hope of giving a team mate time to get there. Setter Jazmine Stenger-Smith was close behind Grace. Grace kept her eye on the path of the ball and rolled out of Jazmine’s way, enabling Jazmine to make a desperate pass to Middle Michaela Metcalf. Michaela then passed a spinning free ball lowover the net and the ball hit the floor on the opponent’s side for the Starlings’ 24th point. This seemed to take the wind out of the Navajo Bob team and the Starlings went on to win 25-15.
The final match of the day was going to be interesting. Due to the Nature of pool play, the Purples were already guaranteed first place in the pool. The Purples were not told this (although most of them suspected something). The Purples came out strong defeating Santee Kelvin 25-14 despite 5 service errors. The second game was also a decisive 25-13 Purple victory despite 5 service errors. Strong serving by Michaela Metcalf and Brooke Nelepovitz with Bridget Ingle contributing 3 kills were featured in this final game.
During Day 2 several of the coaches and parents were hearing some very complimentary things about the Purples, in the form of “Watch out for Ridgecrest Purples” and “They are winning”. One of the referees complimented the Purples on their sportsmanship, playing as a team, and overall skill.
This first place finish on Day 2 guaranteed a 6th place or higher finish for the Purples; they were then sent to very grueling double elimination bracket play against the 5 other first place finishers of the other pools.
The first Match was against an extremely mobile and energetic team from Tijuana. The Purples seemed to remember their old 9-am-start-habits and made many unforced errors (the exception being only 2 service errors). The coaches had to use both time outs to try to stop runs by Tijuana. The Starlings appeared to improve, but lost the first game 21-25. The second game saw the Purples awaken a bit. The Starlings roared out to a 6-0 lead behind Captain Jazmine Stenger-Smith’s strong service with 3 aces. Key kills by Becca Stoffel, Brooke Nelepovitz and Allie Sliva; great touches/blocks by Michaela Metcalf and Bridget Ingle and several diving passes by Grace Tesdall lead to a 25-19 victory with only 2 service errors. The tiebreaker was a real nail-biter. Both teams traded the lead, and the coaches had to use both time outs to stop runs by Tijuana. Strong play all around with only 1 missed serve lead to a 15-13 Starlings victory. We all liked this team from Mexico and were wishing them the best.
Match 2 was against Hacienda Heights. The first game featured Strong serving by Allie Sliva and Brooke Nelepovitz, with a great joust by Bridget Ingle on game point. The Starlings won 25-19 with the 5 service errors making the game closer than it seemed. Hacienda Heights put up more of a challenge in game 2 and the coaches had to use both time outs. Strong serving by Becca Stoffel (8 serves and 2 aces) and Michaela Metcalf (5 serves with 3 aces), 2 kills by Bridget Ingle and solid overall play by Allie Sliva, Brooke Nelepovitz, Jazmine Stenger-Smith and Grace Tesdall lead to a 25-21 Purple victory with only 3 service errors.
The Third Match was against a very tall (some girls were over 6’) and very numerous (15 girls) Oakland team. The Purples seemed a bit overwhelmed at first; again both timeouts were needed especially after the Starlings were down by 10-18, but strong serving by Michaela Metcalf and Brooke Nelepovitz and solid defensive play by Libero Grace Tesdall gave the Starlings a hard-fought 25-23 victory with 3 service errors. This was also one of the few matches were the Starlings benefited from service errors of the opposing team. Oakland roared to life during game 2, defeating the Starlings 25-19. Oakland seemed to have a knack for passing/tipping/setting the ball just inside the back line. The coaches counseled an adjustment for the tiebreaker. During the tiebreaker the Starlings were to watch Oakland’s setter to see if she made a move to pass to a hitter or to set the ball towards the Starlings back row. This adjustment seemed to help. The Starlings jumped out to a 6-1 lead behind strong serving by Jazmine Stenger-Smith (6 serves and 3 aces) and later by Michaela Metcalf with 7 flawless serves in a row. Solid play by Becca Stoffel, Allie Sliva, Brooke Nelepovitz, Bridget Ingle and many diving passes by Grace Tesdall kept the Starlings in the lead. This game also featured a very scary book-keeping error. The Starlings were up 13-7, but then the score board showed only a 11-9 starling lead. The referee had to intervene. The rules state that the scoreboard must reflect what the book says. After much consultation the ‘by the book score’ was set to be 13-9 Starlings. This did not sit well with many of us; however, it had to be accepted. The Starlings went on to win 15-10. This victory guaranteed the Starlings a worst-case 2nd place finish.
The Championship Match was against a very tough and resilient team from Shonto. To many people’s relief, there were official line judges, down refs, score keepers and even a highlight announcer. Shonto played only 5 players on the court as their squad had several injuries. The Starlings played quite well with kills by Michaela Metcalf, Jazmine Stenger-Smith and Allie Sliva, solid passing by Becca Stoffel and Brooke Nelepovitz and several diving saves by Grace Tesdall, and a solid service run by Bridget Ingle. The Starlings 25-16 victory (with 5 Starling service errors) served as a wake-up call to Shonto. Much to the injured player’s credit, Shonto played a squad of 6 during game 2. The Starlings couldn’t quite catch up, despite both time outs being used, and lost 18-25.
The tiebreaker was an incredible tension-filled event. The crowd was buzzing and the coaches’ hearts were racing (this is not a time to take one’s blood pressure). If the Starlings won, they would get first. If the Starlings lost, they still had a chance at first, but they would have to win the tiebreaker game (a game to 25). The teams went back and forth for the first couple points. Then Brooke Nelepovitz started a service run of 6 serves and 1 ace, which gave the Starlings a 7-2 lead. Some diving saves by Grace Tesdall, solid play by Jazmine Stenger-Smith, Becca Stoffel, Bridget Ingle and Allie Sliva and a key kill by Michaela Metcalf then gave the Starlings a well-deserved 15-8 victory.
The announcement came over the loudspeaker:
Congratulations Ridgecrest Purple Starlings; the Under 14 National Champions!
There wasn’t a dry eye in Ridgecrest.
Individual player highlights for the tournament.
Middle Michaela Metcalf had some tremendous blocks, lead the team in touches, and was a force at the net. She had 97 total serves, 19 aces and 8 kills. She had a key kill off a Shonto over-pass at the beginning of the Championship game.
Setter and Co-Captain Becca Stoffel had some great sets and great passes. She had 78 serves 16 aces and 5 kills. 20% of her serves were aces. She also had a kill that walked across the net during the Championship game that kept momentum for Ridgecrest.
Libero Grace Tesdall was all over the floor and made over 27 diving passes to keep the ball in play. Many of those dives looked painful. Many of her passes come of strong hits or tricky passing by the other team. Grace had a key desparation return for a point that prevented a Shonto comeback.
Setter and Captain Jazmine Stenger-Smith kept the team on track and was a solid setter. She had 107 serves 15 aces and 4 kills. She had a serving percentage of 96 and missed only 4 serves the entire tournament.
Outside Hitter Brooke Nelepovitz had some outstanding kills, tips and some great service runs. She also had some key hits and kills that kept the opposing team ‘off system’. She had 95 serves 16 aces and 15 kills.
Outside Hitter Allie Sliva had some great serving runs, solid athletic play and some key kills and tips. She had 71 serves, 14 aces and 10 kills. Allie also served up a service ace for the Championship point.
Middle Bridget Ingle had some great kills and won many battles (called jousting) at the net against much taller players. She had 59 serves 6 aces and 11 kills.
Nice work Purples!
Dr. John D. “The Punisher” Stenger-Smith