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MAC volleyball struggles to finish in NJCAA opener

HUTCHINSON, Kan. – The Mineral Area volleyball team had enough difficulty trying to close out dynamic Trinity Valley after building late leads in all four sets Thursday afternoon.

But an egregious mistake at the scorer’s table prolonged an opening game that rightfully belonged to Mineral Area, and ultimately factored into the outcome of its NJCAA Tournament first-round match.

Trinity Valley, the No. 9 seed and at-large selection to the 16-team field, instead made its inaugural appearance a successful one by prevailing 26-24, 18-25, 25-21, 25-23 at Hutchinson Sports Arena.

Neither confusion nor controversy could overshadow a stellar performance by sophomore outside hitter Juliana Vaz, who compiled 27 kills on 62 attacks plus 21 digs in the win.

She perplexed Mineral Area from various angles in every rotation, landing pivotal swings throughout the contest as a focal point of the offense while Middle hitter Lauren Castles totaled 12 kills with five blocks.

“We couldn’t stop two players, No. 7 and No. 24,” Mineral Area coach Tim Copeland said in reference to Vaz and Castles. “We told (our players) that those two were the ones they would go to; [Vaz] in the front row, back row, it didn’t matter. And we still couldn’t get ourselves adjusted to where we needed to be.”

Cindy Garcia Penaloza provided 17 kills on 33 attacks, along with five blocks and two aces for Mineral Area (27-4). Outside hitter Katie Duncan connected for 12 kills.

Mineral Area appeared to have game one well under control after both teams appeared rusty at the outset. Penaloza was proficient at tipping early before moving to a more powerful approach.

Shelby Meyer dug a blistering spike in a transition toward a kill from Isidora Stojovic, then served an ace to create a 21-15 separation.

Trinity Valley picked up the next four points, turning to Yasmim Da Silva and Erica Airheart for kills, and handled three incoming attacks before a third look to Penaloza found the surface.

That exchange gave Mineral Area a 23-20 cushion on the scoreboard, which drew no objection at the time from any of the participants involved. But after Trinity Valley won two more rallies, the tally suddenly read 22-22.

Copeland appealed for help to the floor referee, who then conferred with the scorekeeper, but nothing was corrected. The match was later delayed for about three minutes over issue with the MAC serving order.

“You have to go off the score sheet, and the score sheet said 22-22. I said, ‘Well, that’s wrong,” said Copeland. “And the [NJCAA] TV people even said it was wrong. They were like, ‘You had 23, dude.’ I’m just saying. And that was a big turning point, because we were up by 1 and instead, now we’re tied.”

Even with the unfortunate turn of events, a smash by Duncan and errant set that missed the intended Trinity Valley attacker should have closed the game with a 25-22 count.

But a right-side kill by Ana Paula Zandona and subsequent net violation instead leveled the score at 24-24. Mineral Area followed with an attacking error and botched serve reception.

“I thought we were still going to pull this one out, and maybe get our rhythm going a little better. And we did in spurts,” Copeland said. “The first game was the heart-breaker for me, because I felt like we had the situation in hand. But we let them have three or four points that they didn’t earn.”

Castles opened game two with a quick swing and stuff-block for Trinity Valley, but Mineral Area showed its ability to regroup quickly and eventually squared the match.

Consecutive kills by Stojovic, Penaloza and Melissa Avendano preceded an ace from Ainslee Finch within a 5-0 scoring outburst. Another ace by Emily Greif pushed the lead to 18-11.

Serving continued to sparkle on a jumping topspin ace by Penaloza, and Avendano answered two kills by Castles to present game point at 24-18.

Mineral Area, making its third straight NJCAA tourney and fourth overall, could not capitalize after gaining a sizable cushion in game three.

Penaloza and Stojovic combined for a block at 15-11, and Duncan altered her swinging motion in midair to restore a 19-15 lead after Finch dived to keep the play alive.

But Mineral Area had no answer for the 5-foot-9 Vaz during an emphatic 10-2 answer by Trinity Valley. She pounded down two vicious swings before tying it at 20-20 with a kill from the 10-foot line.

Danezzi was called for reaching over the net on a blocking attempt that took another point from MAC, and Vaz added two more kills plus an ace on game point after Castles secured a block.

Sophomore middle Raylyn Dodd was limited to two kills through three games, but sparked Mineral Area by terminating four times during game four.

Meyer finished with 12 digs officially, and notched a season-high 10 assists from her libero spot while stepping forward as Trinity Valley repeated aimed attacks at Danezzi.

Mineral Area led for the final time at 19-18 in game four, and perhaps missed a chance to maximize Penaloza late as Castles rotated back.

Trinity Valley executed a huge triple block after surging ahead on a double contact call, and jumped in front 23-19 following two more Mineral Area errors along the outside.

“We’re here because of everybody on this team. But nobody on this team would doubt who my No. 1 player to go to is. I told [Danezzi] to feed [Penaloza] more. If it wasn’t a perfect set, then she went the safe route. When we did set Cindy on seven of the last 10 points or so, she scored.”

Penaloza tried to rescue MAC with a kill and block on back-to-back rallies. Danezzi turned an initial match point aside with a perfect dink on second contact, but Vaz hammered off the defense to seal the win even though Copeland wanted an illegal contact call on the set.

“I don’t complain a lot about officiating and stuff like that, but there were a few things that in crucial times, even that last ball was a two-hit,” he said. “And whenever Laura got up and blocked that ball to the other side in the third game that we lost, that was a crucial point again and we were ahead. They call her over, and she can barely touch the top of the net.”

“But it comes back to us. We can’t be up by six at 20 points, and then allow them to come back and beat you. We didn’t make good decisions. We looked like we hadn’t played in two weeks for a while.”

Danezzi totaled 41 assists and 17 digs while Avendano had nine kills and Stojovic chipped in seven for Mineral Area, which will face Monroe (N.Y.) in the consolation bracket Friday at noon.

Defensive specialist Sydni Basler added five digs and a back-row kill for MAC.

Mineral Area sophomore Isidora Stojovic (15) and freshman Cindy Garcia Penaloza double-block Trinity Valley attacker Maria Nicolau during game three of an NJCAA volleyball tournament first-round match on Thursday in Hutchinson, Kan.

Mineral Area sophomore Isidora Stojovic (15) and freshman Cindy Garcia Penaloza double-block Trinity Valley attacker Maria Nicolau during game three of an NJCAA volleyball tournament first-round match on Thursday in Hutchinson, Kan.

Mineral Area freshman Emily Greif passes from the back row during game one of a NJCAA volleyball tournament first-round match against Trinity Valley on Thursday in Hutchinson, Kan.

Mineral Area freshman Emily Greif passes from the back row during game one of a NJCAA volleyball tournament first-round match against Trinity Valley on Thursday in Hutchinson, Kan.

Mineral Area sophomore Katie Duncan (14) spikes an outside kill past two Trinity Valley defenders during game one of a NJCAA volleyball tournament first-round match on Thursday in Hutchinson, Kan.

Mineral Area sophomore Katie Duncan (14) spikes an outside kill past two Trinity Valley defenders during game one of a NJCAA volleyball tournament first-round match on Thursday in Hutchinson, Kan.

Mineral Area sophomore libero Shelby Meyer receives a Trinity Valley serve alongside teammate Melissa Avendano (11) during an NJCAA volleyball tournament first-round match on Thursday in Hutchinson, Kan.

Mineral Area sophomore libero Shelby Meyer receives a Trinity Valley serve alongside teammate Melissa Avendano (11) during an NJCAA volleyball tournament first-round match on Thursday in Hutchinson, Kan.

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