ORLANDO, Florida (May 31, 2015) – Jeff Ptak and his Hoosier Team Pineapple (Hoosier) teammates knew they entered the 2016 Premier Volleyball League with a target on their backs. The team took the pressure in stride, clinching a perfect tournament Tuesday night by defeating Great Lakes Lightning (Great Lakes) 13-25, 26-24, 27-25, 25-23 at the 2016 USA Volleyball Open National Championships.
“We were here to have fun,” Ptak said. “It was a great tournament, the crowd was great, things were run perfectly and we just had a great time.”
Ptak scored match point on a soft tip when Great Lakes sent a long pass over the net, but it was Eddie Rivera who stepped up when Team Pineapple needed a spark: Rivera aced the Lightning serve receive to win the second set, and hit off the block to finish the third set.
“The past match I wasn’t being as aggressive as I usually am and coach pulled me aside and told me I needed to start being aggressive if we wanted to win, and I just had to take risks, and I just kept going,” Rivera said.
While Pineapple came out on top, Lightning very nearly tipped the scales behind the arms of Steve Hunt, Joseph Klein and Jamion Hartley. The trio repeatedly stopped Pineapple’s relentless offense at the net, forcing Pineapple attackers to find new shots.
Jorge Ralat was named MVP of the tournament when he entered the match in Set 2 and effectively quarter-backed Team Pineapple’s offense; starting setter and four-time U.S. Olympian Lloy Ball exited the match after injuring his hamstring late in the first set. Joining Ralat on the All-Tournament team were Ptak, Rivera, Kevin Owens (Team Pineapple), Greg Petty (Great Lakes Lightning), Conor Eaton (Great Lakes Lightning) and Steven Kehoe (Iowa Icemen).
In 2015, the teams squared off in a five-set thriller, with Pineapple claiming victory 25-14, 19-25, 20-25, 25-22, 15-13. Pineapple reached this year’s finals by defeating Badger Region Lights Out 25-23, 25-15, 25-20 in the semifinals, and NorCal Wildfire (Northern California) 25-22, 25-22, 27-25 in Monday’s quarterfinals.
Lightning topped the Iowa Icemen 5-23, 20-25, 30-32, 25-17, 16-14 in the semifinals and defeated Keystone Penn Blast 28-26, 25-15, 25-19 in the quarterfinals. Iowa Icemen defeated Lights Out for third place earlier on Monday.
In the Women’s PVL final, Florida Wave swept Iowa Ice 25-20, 29-27, 25-23, claiming the team’s first PVL championship after silver medals in 2014 and 2013.
“We were going for gold from the beginning of the tournament,” Florida Wave middle blocker Samantha Middleborn said. “There wasn’t any question this was the result we wanted.”
Middleborn dominated the net, capitalizing on Iowa overpasses and hitting hard angles on slide attacks out of the middle. She totaled three blocks with eight kills.
Nicole Walch led the Wave offense with 11 kills; Megan Courtney added 10.
Late in the second set the Ice led 24-21, poised to even the match. However, aggressive swings by the Wave and attack and service errors opened the door for Florida to storm back, eventually winning the set on an Iowa attack error.
“You have to fight,” Lexi Dannemiller said of the moment. “I mean, we’re at Adult Nationals, we made it to the finals and you just have to fight.”
Iowa kept the score close in the third set, but never led after the third point. A kill by Haley Eckerman followed by a Megan Timmins solo block forced a Florida time out, but Walsh ended the comeback attempt with an outside attack off the block to seal the win.
Courtney was named the tournament MVP, joined by Walch, Middleborn, Liz McMahon (Florida Wave), Megan Timmins (Iowa Ice), Caitlyn Donahue (Iowa Ice) and Carly Wopat (Chesapeake Rising Tide).
Florida defeated Great Lakes Lightning 25-22, 26-24, 26-24 in the semifinals after sweeping Arizona Sizzle 25-18, 25-21, 25-18 in the quarterfinals. Iowa topped Chesapeake Rising Tide 25-16, 17-25, 36-34, 25-21 to reach the finals after defeating 2015 champions North Texas PVL in a thrilling five-set quarterfinal, 17-25, 22-25, 26-24, 25-13, 16-14.
Chesapeake Rising Tide defeated Great Lakes Lightning 25-20, 25-16, 20-25, 25-12 earlier on Tuesday to win the bronze medal.
In the Sitting Division finals, the Nebraska High Rollers (Great Plains) defeated The Eh Team (Canada)25-22, 25-20. The High Rollers topped Team Florida All-Stars (Florida) 25-23, 25-21 in the semifinals, while the Eh Team defeated NorCal Sitting (Northern California) 25-18, 25-21 to reach the championship. NorCal Sitting won bronze, topping Team Florida All-Stars 25-23, 19-25, 15-12.
In its 87th year, the U.S. Open National Championships is being played in Florida for the first time. Co-hosted with the Florida Region, the event features 578 teams with 75 foreign teams playing on 55 courts. Pool play began Friday; the tournament concludes Wednesday afternoon. Six courts are being livestreamed throughout the tournaments.