Could this be the weekend? Heading into each qualifier that is the thought of each team hoping to punch their ticket to Nationals in their respective divisions they are competing in. With only so many chances to qualify in a season the pressure gets a little bigger each time out. For Milwaukee Sting 18 Gold and 18 Black, there was plenty of drama throughout the January Thaw (Northern Lights Qualifier) in Omaha.
With a little hiccup to A4 on Day 1, Milwaukee Sting 18 Gold had to work through some adversity to have a stellar Sunday to earn their Open bid. Day 2 was filled with plenty of dramatics, with one of the top matches of the day being against MN Select. With two of the top programs in the nation battling back and forth, MN Select came out on top in three sets. Brooke Anderson was playing against future Iowa State teammate in Eleanor Holthaus, which this match also featured five future Big Ten athletes. However, MN Select would lose to KC Power who Sting beat earlier that morning forcing a three way tie at 2-1. With a three way tie, 18 Gold came out on top with KC Power and MN Select having to play a one set playoff for the Championship Pool on Sunday.
Sting 18 Gold Coach Scott Blackmon noted how this team was able to adjust to different positions and stepping up at key points throughout the weekend. To summarize the weekend he simply said, “They just gutted out a lot of things.”
“Both Miranda Wucherer and Claire Mosher have been doing a great job swinging on the right as well as setting. It’s not completely new to either of them as they both have to do a little bit of everything for the HS teams, but in club it’s a new world. Neither are very big, but both understand the game and they take advantage of what’s given to them really well on the right,” Blackmon said.
“Karli Graham may be the best back row defensive middle I’ve had in a long time, if ever. The kid was digging everyone’s biggest OH at one point or another yesterday and not just touches but good, pin to pin digs to keep our offense humming.”
On Sunday, it was all Sting 18 Gold defeating Coast out of San Diego, getting the better of MN Select in three sets, and some revenge on A4 (Orange Co. California) in three sets to win the tournament.
Sting has former players who are playing college volleyball all over the country and like most clubs, will have their alumni come back over Christmas break to scrimmage their own. Blackmon was very thankful to those alums who came back and made his team better, adjusting to the speed of the game they need to play at.
“I can’t thank our alumni enough for coming back over Christmas break and helping us get better all of those nights and some early mornings as well. What also helped was our passing yesterday and this weekend was the best it’s been so far in this very short season, especially pins and liberos. Passing was key in our keeping our tempo to our pins and middles.
For Sting 18 Black, a third place finish was high enough to lock up a bid with the top two teams having previously qualified. The key match for this group was a three set win over Six Pack out of Cedar Falls, Iowa where they won in three sets, the final set going 19-17 sending them into the Gold Bracket.
Sting 18 Black coach Amy Wagner said how special this weekend was to have both teams there to support each other, “The NL Qualifier was a special weekend. I am so proud of my team! I am also thankful for 18 Gold, their parents and of course our own. Their support was especially evident in our third game 19-17 win on Saturday over Six Pack that solidified our place in the Gold bracket. Volleyball is a game of momentum and I cannot thank Coach Scott, 18 Gold, and all the parents for their energy and encouragement during that match!”
Securing a bid to nationals before the end of January is huge for a club. Sting Club Director Dave Bayer also wanted to thank the alums for coming in over Christmas break to help his team get to the next level.
“I know that we are very fortunate to have such talented coaches on both teams to help prepare these players for the next level. Securing bids in Omaha is just a byproduct of the overall process that these 18s players get to experience day in and day out with these coaches. We also need to recognize our Sting alumni who were in the gym over winter break competing against our 18s teams. These 18s have some great resources at Sting to help them be successful, but most of all they are just an incredible talented group of student athletes that love to compete and and are great role models for our younger teams to look up to.”
Sting will get to stay home this weekend to play in the JVA Jamboree which will be played at the Wisconsin Center in Downtown Milwaukee.