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Tuesday, Jul. 30, 2013

Mavs volleyball waltzes at nationals

Special to The Olathe News

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After a roller coaster of a season, the Asics Mavs 16 Blue team didn’t have the highest of hopes entering the USA Volleyball Junior National Championships.

The Mavs, a club team made up of 16-and-under girls from throughout the Kansas City area, got their season off to a good start, but injuries derailed them for a time. So they didn’t go to Dallas as one of the favorites.

All that just made what happened this month all the sweeter. The Mavs didn’t just make an appearance at nationals, they dominated the field in the 16 open division and brought home the national championship.

“We were kind of up and down the whole year,” said Carlyle Nusbaum, an outside hitter on the team. “We had a rough patch in the middle of the year and all of a sudden we turned it on at nationals. It was kind of out of the blue.”

Out of the blue, perhaps, but certainly no fluke. The Mavs won all 10 matches they played in the tournament and were taken to three sets only twice, as they compiled a 20-2 set record.

After beating Five Starz from Northern California 25-22, 25-18 in the semifinals, the Mavs took the title with a 27-25, 25-18 win over the Iowa Rockets in the final on July 5. The Mavs did get pushed in the first set, but in the second set they took a 16-14 lead and put the match away with a 9-4 run.

“It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, surprisingly,” said Nusbaum, who will be a junior at St. Thomas Aquinas. “We were almost flawless.”

The title run didn’t come as a complete surprise for Mavs coach Mike Talamantes. He knew his squad had promise after it won its first tournament and earned a No. 1 national ranking early in the season. But then a series of injuries — including a broken finger that sidelined Nusbaum for two months — took its toll.

“We struggled in March and April,” said Talamantes, who is also the men’s and women’s volleyball coach at Park University. “It’s a very talented squad, but we only have 10 players, so it’s not very deep. Once we had everyone back, though, I thought we had a shot. I just didn’t think we’d roll through the tournament.”

Talamantes said solid defense, and an ability to score at will from the middle and outside, fueled the Mavs’ roll. When teams keyed on their big girl in the middle — 6-foot-51/2-inch Audrey Fitzmorris from St. James Academy — the Mavs could still count on points from Nusbaum, Adeline Ellis from Blue Valley Northwest or Brooke Cousin from Blue Valley West. Kelli Kalinoski, the libero from Olathe East, powered the back line.

“We were a very tough team to beat, because no matter what you did we had an answer for it,” Talamantes said. “For a bunch of freshmen and sophomores to play defense the way they did and with the level of consistency they did … it was phenomenal.”

For Nusbaum, the trip to Dallas gave her something else to celebrate. When the Mavs went to nationals last year, they finished in fifth place after getting knocked out in the challenge match, which determines which teams advance to the final four. That loss occurred on Nusbaum’s 15th birthday.

This time, the Mavs won the challenge match and advanced to the final four on her 16th birthday.

“Best birthday present I’ve ever had,” Nusbaum said.

The Mavs featured players from Lee’s Summit, Parkville, Overland Park, Lenexa, Shawnee, Olathe and Silver Lake, Kan.

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