Posted On: 05/16/14 10:11 AM

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DES MOINES – Nebraska Juniors was the only club to produce multiple champions at the JVA Midwest Challenge in Des Moines last weekend.

Nebraska Juniors 131 and 161 won the 13 Open and 16 Open championships, respectively, in the tournament, which featured some of the top clubs and teams from the Midwest. Mizuno M1 of Minneapolis won the 14 Open title while Central Iowa Select took home the 15 Open title, Fusion of Chicago won the 17 Open title and Wildcat Juniors from Chicago earned the 18 Open title at the Iowa Events Center.

Ryan Gray, head coach for both the Nebraska Juniors 131s and 161s, said the path to the championship was similar for each of the teams in that they got team-wide contributions to help push them over the top.

“(The 161s) were a little short-handed with setter Libby Anthony being injured but Brianna Boender improved as the weekend went on and had her best game in the championship match,” Gray said. “Similar to the 131s, early season role players are now major impact players: Kara Bown is the #1 defensive specialist and as a converted setter she had a large impact on keeping us in system.  Kiley Hixson led us in the championship match with a series of 4-5 positive plays – defensive and offensive – in a row to seal the deal.”

The 16 Open championship was a rematch between Nebraska Juniors 161 and Iowa Rockets. Iowa Rockets took a 14-25, 25-16, 16-14 win on the first day of competition, but in the finals, Nebraska Juniors won a heart-pounding 22-25, 25-23, 15-13 match to avenge its only loss of the tournament.

In the 13 Open division, Nebraska Juniors 131 and VCNebraska 13 Elite seemed headed on a collision course from the very beginning. Nebraska Juniors reached the title match without having dropped a set in the tournament and VCNebraska Elite dropped just one. Nebraska Juniors took a 25-14, 19-25, 15-9 win in the final.

“The team’s season goal was to play their best volleyball of the season in this tournament and without question I feel they accomplished that,” Gray said. “The most satisfying thing was that every player on the roster made a huge impact at one time or another over the weekend. Early season role players became end of season impact players.  Nothing really better than that.

Nebraska Juniors 131 assistant coach Julie Els, who guided the team in the finals, which were running simultaneously as the 16 Open championship, agreed that the team was at its best last weekend.

“At this tournament the 131s played the best they played this season, which was the goal for the whole year, to improve,” Els said. “We talked every practice about focusing on doing the little things right in order to get better as an individual and as a team. Teams want to be playing their best at the very end of the season, and that’s exactly what they did.

“Everyone has a role both in practice and in games. This last tournament players not only learned and adapted to their new roles, but they enjoyed them. Shaylie (Brown) and Brynna (Lewis) trained all year as setters. However, for this tournament we needed them to step up as defensive specialists. Brynna made three huge digs in a row down the line the first set she stepped on the court. Shaylie also made several diving saves, that would have easily scored and been points for the other team if it weren’t for her effort – I think one even counted as a kill.

“Like I briefly mentioned earlier, the part that impressed me the most was the team chemistry. Not everyone on the team knew each other coming into the season, but no one would have ever guessed that if they saw how the girls bonded both on and off the court. From the smiles and celebrations on the court to the loud laughter of stories off the court, these girls learned how to have fun while working hard. With that being said, I couldn’t have asked for a better group of girls to have my first real coaching experience with.”

Midwest JVA Challenge

Championship Match Results & Nebraska Team Places

13 Open

Nebraska Juniors 131 def. VCNebraska Elite 25-14, 19-25, 15-9

VCNebraska 13 Black – 4th

River City Juniors 131 – 6th

River City Juniors 121 – 7th

River City Juniors 111 – 12th

14 Open

Mizuno M1 141 def. All Iowa Attack 14 Red 25-20, 25-17

VCNebraska 14 Black – Tied for 3rd

VCNebraska 14 Elite – 5th

River City Juniors 141 – 8th

TeamMagic 14 Swagger – 10th

VCNebraska 14 Blue – 13th

River City Juniors 142 – Tied for 15th

TeamMagic 14 Unleashed – 22nd

15 Open

Central Iowa Select def. Mizuno M1 151 25-22, 25-16

VCNebraska 15 Elite – 5th

Nebraska Juniors 151 – 6th

Nebraska Juniors 152 – Tied for 7th

River City Juniors 151 – 10th

VCNebraska 15 Black – 14th

River City Juniors 152 – Tied for 15th

VCNebraska 15 White – 17th

VCNebraska 15 Blue – 18th

River City Juniors 153 – Tied for 19th

TeamMagic 15 Thunder – 22nd

16 Open

Nebraska Juniors 161 def. Iowa Rockets 22-25, 25-23, 15-13

TeamMagic Versace – Tied for 5th

Nebraska Juniors 162 – Tied for 5th

VCNebraska 16 Elite – Tied for 9th

River City Juniors 161 – Tied for 9th

Nebraska Gold Star Legacy – 14th

River City Juniors 162 – 16th

River City Juniors 162 – 18th

Nebraska Gold 15 – 20th

17 Open

Fusion 17 Black def. All Iowa Attack 17 Red 19-25, 25-20, 15-9

Nebraska Juniors 171 – Tied for 3rd

River City Juniors 171 – Tied for 5th

VCNebraska 17 Elite – 14th

VCNebraska 17 Black – Tied for

18 Open

Wildcat Juniors 18 Black def. Iowa Rockets 25-20, 25-19

Nebraska Juniors 181 – Tied for 3rd

River City Juniors 181 – Tied for 7th

Nebraska Juniors 172 – 9th

River City Juniors 182 – Tied for 11th

You can get the complete tournament results by CLICKING HERE