With the USA Volleyball 16s division we can breathe some.
Qualifying for 18s starts over MLK weekend, and for the first time the 17s have a qualifier in January, as well. But the 16s won’t start qualifying until March and that means one of the first times we’ll see a collection of top clubs comes at the Triple Crown Sports NIT over President’s Day weekend in Kansas City. That same weekend the SCVA is hosting the Las Vegas Classic. Volleyballmag will have plenty more on both in the coming month.
There are too many high-caliber clubs to list coming to Triple Crown. We do know 30 of the 36 teams that earned a 15 Open bid last summer are set to participate in the 16s in KC. That doesn’t even include last year’s AAU 15 Open gold medalist Munciana 16 Ninjas, also in the field.
Munciana won’t play the USA Volleyball qualifiers but many others from Triple Crown, of course, will. The Sunshine Classic and younger age groups at Crossroads is up first. That same weekend is one of the bigger non-qualifiers of the season in the Adidas Bluegrass Tournament in Louisville hosted by KiVA. There are 37 teams signed up in 16 Open, including Munciana, AVC Clev 16 Rox, Circle City 16 Purple, SPVB 16 Elite and Tri-State Elite 16 Blue.
As for qualifying, we haven’t seen the Reno or Minneapolis entrants for 16 Open. The rest are set to hand out three bids except for Show Me in KC. There are currently 22 teams signed up, two short of the 24 needed for three bids. If only two go out at Show Me, that means one at-large bid in the mix at least at the end of qualifying in April.
One of the hardest qualifiers per usual is MEQ in Indianapolis. The field is full at 48 clubs and there are plenty of strong ones going for bids. Clubs like A5 Mizuno 16 Gabe, AVC, Circle City, CVC 16 Black, Dynasty 16 Black, Houston Skyline 16 Royal, KC Power 16-1, Michigan Elite 16 Mizuno, Rockwood Thunder 16 Elite, Skyline 16 Royal and TAV 16 Black.
One of the more interesting qualifying weekends happens in April when three qualifiers –NEQ, Big South and Windy City — all take place at the same time. Of them, NEQ looks the most challenging. There are 40 teams signed up in 16 Open and it features 10 teams which earned Open bids last year in 15 Open. They are 1st Alliance 16 Silver, AVC, Co Jrs 16 Sherri, LoneStar 16 Red, Metro 16 Travel, OT 16 Roberto, Rockwood Thunder, Skyline, Surfside 16 Legends, TAV and Tribe 16 Dean.
Windy City isn’t far behind. It’s a good-sized field with 32 clubs and six were in 15 Open a summer ago in Indy. Another — Michigan Elite — was a bronze medalist in 15 Open at AAUs and is also in the field in Chicago. Big South could be the place to get a bid that weekend. There are 23 teams accepted currently but 25 signed up so there is likely to be three bids awarded. However, there are just four teams – A5, Boomers 16 Lisa, JJVA 16 and TK 16s, that were in 15 Open last year.
Another loaded qualifier takes place at the Red Rock Rave, hosted by the SCVA in Las Vegas. There’s a waiting list to get in 16 Open currently. Already in is Coast, LoneStar, Michigan Elite, OT Roberto, San Gabriel Elite 16 Rosh, Surfside and Wave 16 Juliana. AZ Storm’s entry is pending and the 15 Open could also be there.
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
Arizona Storm Elite 16 Thunder — With the acrobatics of 6-3 outside Jordan Middleton, Arizona Storm is going to be in any match it plays. She’s the toughest cover in the age group and can take over a set quickly. She can hit at angles that defenses have little chance of digging. And she’s not the only reason to like Storm, which returns plenty from last year’s group that finished second in 15 Open at junior nationals. Setter Anita Babic is back and still has Laylah Daniel to work with on the outside and blooming Halli Hooks on the right to help balance out the attack. McKenna Douglas is still there in the back row so it doesn’t look like Arizona Storm is going anywhere in 2020.
Mizuno Long Beach 16 Rockstar — Long Beach’s only loss in 15 Open at junior nationals was a costly one. It kept Beach from medaling and instead coming in fifth after falling to OT 15 Melito in the quarterfinals. The core returns and that’s reason to believe Long Beach is going to be right back in the medal conversation come 16 Open. At 6-2, Adonia Faumuina is one of the top players in the age group. She can hit on either pin and set, so she is key in just about everything Beach does. Rylie McGinest, at 6-2, is a presence in the middle and among the returners that also features 6-0 OH Mele Faiva Corral-Blagojevich and 5-10 Jordyn Schilling. Corral-Blagojevich carries a heavy arm and big serve that can swing sets in Beach’s favor in a hurry while Schilling helps makeup a steady passing duo at the position.
Madfrog 16 Green — There is more than enough offense. That part won’t be the issue. If Madfrog passes well defenses will be overwhelmed. Mia Moore was among the best on the right side in 15 Open last year and she’ll team with Ana Heath to give Madfrog the most offensive 1-2 punch on the right side in the country. Moore gets up and hits high. Heath hits hard and also figures to play a setting role along with Leah Reeves. We could see Madfrog flipping between a 5-1 and 6-2 as it figures the lineup out. Avery Calame and Maya Duckworth are part of the package on the outside, as is Maddie Pyles. Pyles can also play the middle and could be in the mix there. Other options include Ifenna Cos-Okpalla, who played with Heath on Madfrog 15 Black last year. The reality is both could have been on Madfrog Green. Also back from Madfrog Green is Tayah Little in the middle. Madfrog was one of the best in 15 Open last year until getting knocked off by LoneStar 15 Red in challenge play at JN’s. It should be a motivating factor in 2020.
OT 16 Roberto — As 15s last year, OT grabbed a bronze in 15 Open at junior nationals and returns the main foundation to give it another legit shot in 2020. Roberto Santasofia did a good job with an under-rated 16s group last season and takes over a group filled with gold-medal potential. Those back include the formidable outside duo of Ana Julia Bleeker and Bri Anderson, middle Amaya Thomas and right side Laila N’diaye among others. Together, they fought through a lot of tough moments a season ago and often played some of their best volleyball in pressure situations. That should serve OT well as it takes on the 16 Open division.
A5 Mizuno 16 Gabe — A5 was lacking Open experience compared to other teams when it began as 15s last year. Growing through the season, A5 eventually placed 13th in 15 Open in Indy after losing to silver medalist Arizona Storm in challenge play. The core is back intact and a couple of additions could boost A5 to the podium in 16 Open. The options for setters Ashlynn Barnes and Greta Hans are numerous. Caylen Alexander (5-11), Morgan Cobb (6-2), Lauren Eitler (5-11) and Alexa Markley (6-2) are all pin hitters and are joined by newcomer Cheridyn Leverette (6-0) on the outside as well. Annamarie Rakoski (6-3) and Mikayla Hayden (6-2) are back in the middle and are joined by Mari Singletary (6-5), who adds height to the lineup. Defensively, Cailey Dockery is back and A5 gets a key addition in Emma Farrell, who comes over after playing libero for TK 15 Rise in 2019. She was one of the top liberos in the division and combined with Dockery could give A5 some of the best back court play in the 15s. Add it up and A5 is going to be a difficult team to deal with.