How did Southern California-based Tstreet 16 Mike dominate this season?
Coach Mike Murphy called it having the perfect recipe that had many key ingredients. “It was kids, talent, attitude, athleticism and the parents were great,” he said. “This group won gold two years ago. There was a lot of anticipation going into the season.”
And Tstreet did not disappoint. It went 66-3 overall and ended the season winning the 16 Open title at junior nationals in Indianapolis. In Indy, Tstreet went 10-1, beating TAV 16 Black for the national title. As a result of a stellar season, Tstreet is the 2019 VolleyballMag.com girls club team of the year.
“What we achieved is based on the culture we set here,” said Murphy, also the head girls coach at J Serra Catholic in San Juan Capistrano, California. “The kids went into each practice honoring one another. We never got excited or overly focused on results. I’m so grateful for this opportunity. God designed me to be the architect to put these puzzle pieces together.”
Murphy said emotions never got out of whack with the group, which featured junior-national all-tournament selections in libero Lauren Bays (MVP of tournament, Washington commit), outside hitter Jessie Smith (UCLA beach commit) and setter-right side Rachel Fairbanks.
“The kids were friends and they were comfortable with each other,” he said. “We didn’t have to go through those peaks and valleys. The kids were emotionally tough and they led by example. Lauren Bays and Jessie Smith were our captains and they had the respect of the team. We never tried to achieve anything. The kids just went out there and competed in everything whether it was volleyball, playing ping-pong or when I took them surfing. It was a set of unique and competitive athletes. This never was about one girl. Each girl developed the respect of the team.”
Outside hitter Elyse Stowell, a BYU commit, said the relationships she formed with her teammates was unique. “I’m so grateful to have had such a wonderful group of girls to support me this season,” she said.
Smith added the connection between girls wasn’t limited to the volleyball court. “What made this team so good this year was our connection on and off the court,” she said. “We all have complete trust in one another which makes our bond on the court even stronger. What I liked most about this team is they weren’t only my teammates, but also my best friends. It makes the game even more fun than it already is, and I feel like the more fun we had, the better we played.”
Bays said: “I also think we had a really good season this year because of the friendships and bonds we have with each other. There wasn’t one girl on the team who I wouldn’t consider my best friend, and I think that bond and trust gave us an advantage over many teams because we all were so close with one another.
“I liked the bond and sisterhood with each other. We all have handshakes with each other we would do before games that always put a smile on our faces before the ref blew the whistle.”
Bays made it a point to add the group worked well with the Tstreet 16 coaching staff. “The connectivity we had with Mike, Andy (Hein) and Bailey (Tanner) made this year so special because they believed in all of us that we could do it. They were amazing coaches and I’m very grateful to have played for them. The coaches made this special because they wanted to get to know us as people, not only as players. Our whole team was one big family and there is nothing more you could ask for as a player.”
On the court, Murphy said weaknesses were few and far between. “We were great in all areas,” he said. “We had no weakness. Our serve-receive and ball control were very good. We were able to distribute the ball at a high level and we attacked from all zones. At any given time we had four attacks going.”
Murphy said the team did a good job of tuning out any non-team-related items. “The focus always was on us,” he said. “We watched a lot of video and wrote down a lot of things. We were never concerned about the other team. At this level, everybody and anybody is good, especially in that top tier of this age group. Our main goal was to play our brand of volleyball and keep it cohesive. It didn’t matter who we played, it was all on us.”
Bays said this gold-medal effort required 11 players to improve throughout the year. “We all improved across the board in every aspect,” she said. “It wasn’t one individual. It was 11 of us putting in the hard work and wanting to get better and willing to put in that extra work, whether it was doing private lessons or extra strength training. The small things all added up and helped us grow as a team.”
Murphy liked how his team responded at junior nationals after losing to Vegas Aces in the second round after going 5-0 in pool play. Tstreet came back to defeat Waves and avenged the Vegas loss. “Those teams had nothing to lose,” said Murphy. “We beat both of them. It felt like we really rallied and dug even deeper. I also thought we played really strong against Colorado Juniors in the crossover.”
Stowell added: “I think our composure during tough matches and consistency throughout the entire season helped us rise up and eventually become the No. 1 team. I also believe our team chemistry played a huge part in us getting here.”
Tstreet then mowed through the gold bracket with wins against Milwaukee Sting, Sunshine Westside and then the final against TAV.
“I’m humbled by what these girls did,” said Murphy. “You can’t really manufacture the right kids, coaches and the right club. All of those things came together for us. I love working with these kids.”