Area club wins junior national championship
Players wiped away tears, gave heartfelt congratulations and listened to the roar at center court as a standing ovation welcomed them to the winner's circle at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.
With a 25-19, 25-19 victory over top-seeded Wave Volleyball from Southern California on July 7, the 13-year-old m.31 Rox squad from Columbus-based Mintonette Sports secured the city's first USA Volleyball girls junior national championship.
"We were all in shock, we went crazy," said Kendyl Paris, a Hilliard native in her fourth year playing with Mintonette. "Some people cried because we were so happy. No one had ever experienced something like that before."
The m.31 Rox had an unexpected run to the championship after nearly not qualifying for the national tournament, which began June 28. In the Ohio Valley Region qualifier, the squad captured the final American Division spot in the 13-year-old bracket by placing fourth overall.
The 13th seed for the national tournament, coach Katie Duy thought the team's dark-horse attitude worked just fine.
"I think a lot of people overlooked us," she said. "We went in with the underdog idea, with no pressure."
Other local players on the m.31 Rox included Catherine Patton (Dublin), Maddie Fogg (Powell), Elyse Gleeson (Dublin), Bailey Numbers (Dublin), Diana Brown (Westerville), Ashlan Riley (Lewis Center), Kristen Chatman (Gahanna), Jalyn Willard (Westerville) and Sami Rubal (Lewis Center).
To reach the final day of competition, Mintonette held its seed in the first set of matches, as the bracket was cut from 48 to 24. Then in a pool of three, the club finished second to advance to the challenge match, with a bid to the final eight on the line. The challenge match against Tribe, a team from Florida that the m.31 Rox had lost to one week earlier, marked the turning point for Duy and her squad.
"In the third game we were down 10-5, and we came back and won," Duy said. "Their backs were really against the wall. It showed their persistence and determination, especially with the pressure on to get into the 'Gold' round."
Mintonette won its quarterfinal matchup over TAV from North Texas in two games and defeated Cincy Classics 16-14 in that match's third game to cap another come-from-behind win. Once the semifinal ended in dramatic fashion, the stage was set for the title match.
"Our coaches were really encouraging, they were telling us we could do this," Paris said. "We had come this far, they said, don't stop now."
Facing a team that had lost just two games during the tournament in Wave Volleyball, the players kept their composure from start to finish, Mintonette club director Maxwell Miller said.
"They were as calm as they can be, for 13-year-olds," he said. "I think they handled their nerves really well, and Katie Duy kept the kids focused on trying to win the next point."
"It sounds cliche, but everything kind of fell into place," Duy said. "We played our best game of the year."
Mintonette also was battling history, as a Columbus team had never won it all. Miller believes winning the title in the team's home city made it all the more special.
"It was kind of surreal," he said. "No Columbus team had ever won a national title, so to be the first team to do it, and to do it in Columbus, it was a great run."
The players also had the luxury of enjoying the comforts of home, without the distractions of being in a new city or staying in hotels.
"I think everyone on our team felt more supported," Price said. "Almost everyone on the team had someone else from their family besides their mom, dad or siblings. So it was really good support."
"I think that just to see the girls play so well, I was proud," Duy said. "And to see how the girls played in front of friends and family and represent the city, for them to be the only ones to ever win, it was a shock."