The collective answer to David Shaw’s question turned out to be just a single word.
“How,” he asked Aurora Davis, Adrianna Nora, and Sarah Wood, “did this team come together?”
Simple, Nora and Wood agreed: “Aurora.”
Davis, of course, one of the humblest individuals you’ll meet, should you be fortunate enough to meet her and her lovely, constantly growing family, demurred. As quickly as Nora and Wood flipped the spotlight on her for putting the trio together, she turned it right back on her two teammates at the 33rd annual Clash, put on by AVPAmerica and Lake Murray Country.
“I knew they were both beasts,” Davis said. “That’s how.”
She’s not wrong. Behind the enormous swings from Nora, sweet hands from Wood, and signature scrappy defense from Davis, the three won the Clash, beating Maribeth Kern, Ashley Muench, and Meredith Rosenberger in the finals, 22-20, 21-18.
Beastly as they may have been by tournament’s end, it was not the smoothest of events for the three. They lost the first match of the tournament to the aforementioned trio, and then lost their third, too, to Sydney Alvis, Nicole Lott, and Maddy Kline. It put them third in pool – enough to move into the playoffs, but not enough to exactly be filled to the brim with confidence.
“We just showed up,” Davis said with a laugh when asked about their preparation, or lack thereof. “Pool play was a little rough. We came out third. Wasn’t looking too pretty but we pulled it together and had a lot of fun.”
Indeed, they won their first round of playoffs with ease, a 21-14 victory over Gina Morgan, Kathryn Polkoff, and Kara Van Nice, before exacting their first bout of revenge, defeating Alvis, Lott, and Kline in the semifinals, 21-19, 19-21, 15-12.
By then, the wrinkles had been smoothed over, the chemistry found, as Nora bombed one swing after the next, including match point of the finals, an exclamation point of a swing down the line to seal up the win.
“The boomstick of big red,” Shaw, the commentator on the AVPAmerica stream, said of that swing. “That’s Adrianna Nora. “
“Swing hard,” Nora said of her mindset in the final. “[Wood] set the ball and it was in my hands. I let her guide me. She did all the work. She made it easy.”
So the answer, then, for how this team came to be – and came to be successful – is, in reality, more than one word.
It’s a grand total of three: Davis assembles, Wood guides, Nora bombs.
It wasn’t all that different from that of the men’s winners, Nolan Albrecht, Tomas Goldsmith, and Schylar Lillethorup. Like the women’s victors, it was a simple mindset that led to their win, their first as a team.
“When you can serve and hit the ball hard, most of the time things work out well for you,” Goldsmith said with a laugh. “This is my first time playing with Nolan, first time playing with Schylar, been trying to play with him for a long time now, so for me, this is just a great time to be with some great ballers and do my part to contribute.”
It is not difficult to see why. Albrecht has established himself as perhaps the best talent on the grass – and a quickly rising one on the beach – while Lillethorup, whose main role was setting, displayed a utilityman skill set that allowed both Goldsmith and Albrecht to play at the peak of their abilities.
“I hit, I set, I – whatever,” Lillethorup said. “I’ll do anything.”
On the final play of the championship match, against Brett Rosenmeier, Nick Drooker, and Angel Dache, that ability to do anything was displayed at its clearest. He passed a missile of a jump serve from Dache, was dug, and then, rather than setting the ensuing ball, optioned it on the second, hitting a crisp line over the block of Rosenmeier for the win.
The victory marks Albrecht’s fourth in a row on the grass, and the first AVP Grass Tour win for both Lillethorup and Goldsmith.
“I love these tournaments,” Albrecht said. “It’s fun to play with these guys.”~ Travis Mewhirter: @trammew