Often times you can tell how competitive a division is by looking at the record of the top finishers at USA Volleyball Junior Nationals.
For instance, Houston Skyline 15 Royal captured 15 Open gold in Indianapolis last summer with two losses on its slate. Arizona Storm Elite 15 Thunder, which took second, lost three times. Contrast that with 16 Open, where Tstreet 16 Mike and TAV 16 Black, the gold and silver medalist respectively, each went 10-1. Clearly, they were the best teams.
What does that have to do with anticipating this year’s 15s division? Judging by the results in 14 Open in Indy, it’s going to be tightly competitive and up for grabs.
Tstreet 14 Carson and TAV 14 Black, the gold and silver medalists respectively, each went 9-2. Yet, not having seen the 14s last year, the 15s division is always a fresh start as it gets underway.
It certainly made highlighting five teams we think are going to be the best at the end challenging. Before we get to those though let’s check in on the scheduling. Like the 16s, 15s won’t have to worry about qualifying until March. The biggest difference to start comes with what could be three at-large bids in play for Open if things hold true as they are now.
Currently, three qualifiers — Windy City, Lone Star and Big South — only have enough teams to award two bids each. That would open up an at-large bid at each qualifier. Should any more become free during the season, that could leave quite a few Open at-large bids in play once qualifying is over.
Before qualifying season we have the Triple Crown Sports NIT in Kansas City in February. To say the field is loaded in an understatement. Of the 36 teams to make 14 Open last year, 29 are participating in the 15s at Triple Crown. Of the top 16 teams at JN’s, only NE Elite isn’t in KC. On top of that, the event also features Adidas KiVA 15 Red and Munciana 15 Lorax. Those two claimed gold and silver, respectively, in 14 Open at AAU last summer. That’s a true heavyweight lineup of teams.
As for the qualifiers, MEQ is always a good place to start. Currently, there are 43 teams accepted with five more pending which could bring the total to 48 or a max field in that case. Scheduled to be there are A5 Mizuno 15 Bob, Circle City 15 Purple, Dynasty 15 Black, Elevation 15-1, KC Power 15-1, Legacy 15-Adidas, Lions 15-1, MAVS 15-1, PVA 15 Elite, Rockwood Thunder 15 Elite and Skyline 15 Royal. That’s 11 clubs which were part of 14 Open at JN’s.
The SCVA Red Rock Rave in Las Vegas in April features nine from 14 Open – Aspire 15 UA Premier, AZ Rev 15 Adidas, Coast 15-1, San Gabriel Elite 15 Rosh, Skyline 15 Royal, Surfside 15 Legends, Tstreet 15 Chris, W Revolution 15 Premier and Wave 15 Brent.
Below is the full qualifying schedule:
March 6-8: Orlando (all ages)
March 7-9: Denver (11-15s)
March 13-15: Denver (16-18s); St. Louis (11-14s, 15A, 15U)
March 20-22: Indianapolis (15O, 16-18s)
March 21-23: Spokane (15s, 16O, 17-18s)
March 27-29: Spokane (11-14s, 16U, 16A)
March 28-30: Las Vegas (16-18s); Kansas City (11-14s, 15A)
April 3-5: Las Vegas (11-15s); Kansas City (15O, 15U, 16-17s)
April 4-6: Philadelphia (11-14s, 15U, 15A)
April 10-12: Philadelphia (15O, 16-17s); Dallas (11-14s, 15A); Atlanta (all ages); Chicago (all ages)
April 17-19: Minneapolis (11-14s); Dallas (15-17s)
April 18-20: Reno (11-14s, 15A)
April 24-26: Minneapolis (15-16s); Reno (15O, 15U, 16-17s)
June 21-28: Orlando (AAU)
June 30-July 3: 2020 USA Volleyball Girls Junior National Championship, Dallas
Moving on, we look at five teams we believe will be among the best when it’s all over.
Adidas KiVA 15 Red — Nine of the 10 members are back from last year’s AAU 14 Open gold medalist squad, with seven attending Assumption HS. There’s lots of familiarity with this team and that combined with the height KiVA carries points toward more success coming KiVA’s way. The team is tall in the middle with 6-5 Gabrielle Gerry and 6-4 Nya Bunton. Setter Whitney Woodrow is 6-0. She has 6-1 OH Sydney Helmers to work with as well as 6-1 OH/RS Alexis Strong and 6-0 RS/OH Ashby Willis. Meanwhile, Alley Bowman and Mia Maloney return to anchor the back row.
Tstreet 15 Chris — The 14 Open gold medalists at junior nationals made zero changes to the roster. That means while teams around Tstreet have added pieces, Tstreet is relying on its own improvement in 2020 to get the job done again. And why not? Familiarity is going to be a strength. It’s likely we see Tstreet start strong while other teams try to catch up by the end of the year. With no additions or subtractions, it means everyone is back, including 5-9 OH Julia Waugh, 6-1 middle Lily Dwinell and libero Koko Kirsch. Others includes 5-10 OH Maia Niemen, 6-1 OH/RS Paige Buzzerio and 5-11 MB/RS Sidney Shaffer.
TAV 15 Black — Even after taking silver medal in 14 Open at JN’s there was lots of turnover as this year’s TAV 15 Black group came together. As a result, it could be a slower start to the year as the new players begin blending with five returners. However, we fully anticipate by the end of the year TAV being among the handful of top contenders once JN’s roll around again. Among those back are outsides Emily Simmons, Kyndal Stowers and Hallie Schroder, as well as liberos Zoe Winford and McKenna Gildon. After that, TAV is fitting in new pieces everywhere else. Callie Kieffer and Audrey Clark make up the new setting duo after coming over from Excel. Also new from Skyline is middle Nicole Mauser. TAV is also counting on the improvement of players from its own club in Hannah Pfiffner, CeCe Gooch and Kamille Gibson, all who were part of TAV 14s teams a year ago.
Legacy 15 Adidas — Finishing fifth in 14 Open at AAUs and earning a bronze in the division at JN’s, Legacy 15 Elite is back and ready for another charge in 15 Open. Harper Murray, a 6-1 OH, is the name everyone knows and the smooth, terminal hitter is already garnering plenty of attention from top programs. She’s not alone, however, in what Legacy can throw at opponents offensively. This group is big and is going to wow in hitting lines. Ball control is still developing and if it improves throughout the season, then watch out for Murray and company. Setter Erin Kline (6-0) also has 6-3 Nina Horning and 6-0 Sarah Vellucci on the outside, as well as 6-0 Becca Aspey on the right and middles Abby Reck (6-1) and Laurece Abraham (6-0), to work with. That means everyone coming across the front row is going to be 6-0 or taller. As we said, if the pass is there Legacy’s going to be difficult to contain.
Northern Lights 15-1 — Northern Lights did not qualify for 14 Open a season ago but that’s going to change in 2020. Some big-time players left MN Select – which took third in 14 Open in Indy – and moved clubs to Northern Lights to help make this year’s 15s bunch. They include sisters Stella Swenson (6-0, S/RS) and Olivia Swenson (6-3, OH/MB), 6-3 OH/RS Sydney Schnichels and 6-1 MB/RS Madeline Knutson. They help form a tall lineup, one where every front row player is 6-0 or taller. They include players like 6-3 MB/OH Annika Veurink, 6-1 MB/RS Kaitlyn Sellner, 6-0 OH/RS Emily Moes and 6-0 OH/RS Mikayla McDougall.