Thursday, June 13, 2024

Mojo Pro Volleyball Magic in Five-Set Win, Retain Fourth Place For Playoff Contention

Dubbed the “Mojo Marathon” by Real Pro Volleyball commentator Jake Herman, the San Diego Mojo Women’s Professional Volleyball Team triumphed over the Orlando Valkyries in five sets that lasted 2.5 hours at SDSU’s Viejas Arena, 25-18, 19-25, 25-15, 18-25, 15-11. The “marathon” moniker is fitting. The team has played six consecutive five-set matches, and leads the league with a total of nine five setters.

“We knew that it was going to be a battle.”

– Head Coach Tayyiba Haneef-Park

The Mojo have now won two of three matches versus the Valkyries. All went five sets, and the Mojo won the first and third sets in the three contests. “We knew that it was going to be a battle,” said head coach Tayyiba Haneef-Park. “We knew that the last time we played them that they felt it probably should have gone their way.”

With the win, the Mojo maintained their hold on fourth place in what is now a tight race for third, fourth, and fifth. Fourth place matters because the top four teams make the playoffs in mid May.

Willow Johnson on the attack. Johnson joined the team April 18 and has had a double-double in each of her first four matches. Johnson was named Player of the Week for the week of April 30. She is only the second Mojo player to earn the honor. Photo Credit: Micah Cunningham

Sets 1 and 2

Ali Bastianelli got things off to an electrifying start with an ace for the first point. Despite typically averaging less than one ace per set, the team served up three in the first. Willow Johnson and Temi Thomas-Ailara each notched three kills, and Ronika Stone added two to the tally. Johnson also showcased her defensive prowess with three of the team’s four blocks.

A 9-3 run brought the set to 13-8 and forced a Valkyries timeout. The timeout did little to help the Valkyries’ cause. The Mojo claimed the next four of six points to gain a commanding lead, 17-10, and the Mojo secured the set, 25-18. Nine errors from the Valkyries contributed to the win. However, the Valkyries came back in the second to win, 25-19, and even the set score at one all.

Sets 3 – 5

Setter August Raske added a wrinkle to the Mojo’s offense, starting the third set in place of Nootsara Tomkom. Not only did Raske have seven assists, she added three kills, one block, and ten digs to contribute across the board. “I think what’s really exciting about our team specifically is that we have such depth on our bench,” said Raske. “Throwing in a different setter gives different looks to create different scoring options. So I think it’s awesome to see that Nootsara runs her offense one way and I run it another way.”

Setter August Raske showed heart and multi-dimensional play with seven assists, ten digs, three kills, and one block in the third set. Her efforts contributed to the team’s most lopsided set of the season, 25-15. Photo Credit: Micah Cunningham

The team had their most lopsided set win of the season, 25-15. Lindsey Vander Weide had four kills, while Raske, Johnson, and Stone had three each. Stone contributed two of the four blocks for the set. The Valkyries fought back, however, and rallied to win the fourth set, 25-18.

Great energy ignited an 8-1 run near the start of the fifth to allow the Mojo some breathing room and a 7-point advantage, 10-3. After leading 13-7, the Valkyries won three straight to pull within three and the Mojo called time out to regroup. The Mojo secured the next two of three points, courtesy of kills by Thomas-Ailara and Johnson. The crowd of 3,679 erupted in cheers as the team clinched the set 15-11, sealing not only the victory but also their ninth win of the season.

Ronika Stone had 13 kills, scoring on 13 -of-22 swings (59 percent), with two blocks and seven digs. Stone’s signature slide was running on all cylinders. At the end of the article, see her slide in action. Photo Credit: Micah Cunningham

Looking Back and Looking Ahead

The April 29 win put an exclamation point on April, where it went 6-3 for the team’s best month ever. “Every match matters especially with Columbus (8-11) that’s right on our tail,” said Haneef-Park.

Johnson had a team-high 17 kills and added 3 blocks and nine digs. “Willow was able to step in with her experience and bring success that she’s had over in Korea back to this team,” said Haneef-Park. “Having a lefty opposite is something that’s very difficult for a block. So it brings another dynamic that a lot of teams just aren’t used to.” Johnson was rewarded for her efforts with Player-of-the-Week honors for the week of April 30. She is only the second Mojo player to earn the recognition. The other was Tomkom, named the week of April 16.

Between now and the end of the season the Mojo have five matches, all critical, including two in two days against the third-place Grand Rapids Rise. Both matches are in Grand Rapids, and will be shown free on YouTube on Saturday, May 4 at 2 p.m. Pacific, and Sunday, May 5 at 1 p.m. Pacific.

On Tuesday, May 7 at 7 p.m., the Mojo return home vs. the Columbus Fury in their final home game at SDSU’s Viejas Arena, aka the mojodojocasahouse (you’ll know that reference if you saw the 2023 “Barbie” movie). As of May 1, the Fury are only one game behind the Mojo, so the final home match up is likely to be a must-win for both teams. Get tickets today.

Ronika Stone’s slide was on full display on Monday evening.

Lisa Lamb
Lisa Lamb
Lisa’s passion for sports journalism stems from her experiences playing high school sports and reading great sports journalists, especially those who write about her favorite basketball team, the San Diego State Aztecs. As a professor of mathematics education, she enjoys analyzing data to highlight the statistics that help bring the story to life. Lisa has lived in Coronado for almost 20 years with her husband and son. She loves the friendly neighborhood community and the walkable access to wonderful restaurants and parks.Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to: [email protected]

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