Let’s start with one big change in the 17s division of USA Volleyball.
In past seasons, the 17s didn’t need to think about qualifying until the calendar turned to March. That’s no longer the case. Instead, the schedule has the 17s first shot at a bid coming at the end of the month! That’s right. The Northern Lights Qualifier broke out the 18s and 17s separately for the three-day event set for Jan. 31-Feb. 2 in Minneapolis.
That’s a chance for a couple of teams to lock up an Open bid to Dallas right out of the gate. However, there will be two bids, and not three, available if the field holds at 22 teams. Fields in 14s-17s need to have 24 or more teams registered to award three bids. Still, two lucky recipients are going to be feeling good just as February hits. The early contenders appear to be clubs like A5 Mizuno 17 Jing, AZ Storm Elite 17 Thunder, KC Power 17-1, Metro 17 Travel, MKE Sting 17 Gold and Northern Lights 17-1.
All but Metro will be back at it weeks later at the Triple Crown Sports Preseason NIT in Kansas City. It’s the biggest and most competitive event of the season outside the national championships. Will any of those aforementioned competitors arrived already qualified? Triple Crown highlights a President’s Day weekend that also features the SCVA Las Vegas Classic. We’ll have plenty more on the two tournaments in the next month.
After that, it’s a full-fledged dive into qualifying season. As we said above, as of now only two Open bids are set to go out at Northern Lights in 17s. That would create one at-large bid right off the bat for the 36-team field going for gold later this summer. We are unsure about the 17 Open in Reno, the last qualifier of the season, but every other 17 Open qualifier is set to award three bids as of now except for Show Me in KC. As of now, only 22 teams are registered so that means two bids will go out unless two more enter. That could leave two at-large bids in play, and more might open up.
The two biggest non-qualifiers during March and April are the Adidas Bluegrass Tournament (March 7-8) and JVA World Challenge (April 3-5), both in Louisville. Currently, there are 37 teams accepted for 17 Open at Bluegrass. Among them are Adidas KiVA 17 Red, AVC Clev 17 Rox, Circle City 17 Purple, Elevation 17-1, MKE Sting and Tri-State Elite 17 Blue. The World Challenge is set to host 32 participants in 17 Open, including KiVA once more, as well as MKE Sting and Tri-State Elite.
Here is the full qualifying schedule:
Jan. 31-Feb. 2: Minneapolis (17s)
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
As we did with the 18s Club outlook, we highlighted five clubs we feel are going to be the best in 2020. Here they are:
Tstreet 17 Naseri — You’d be hard-pressed to find a more confident bunch than Tstreet 17 Naseri. Tstreet held rank last season, starting off by winning Triple Crown and finishing it with the 16s Open gold medal in Indy. Tstreet will miss setter Grace McIntosh but has the rest of its core back to cause havoc in the division. Jessica and Kaitlyn Smith remain part of the roster and hold it down on the outside and middle respectively. Brianne Albright emerged in the middle last season as well, giving Tstreet one of the best duos at that position in the country. Elyse Stowell provides another option on the outside, so Tstreet is strong in those areas, as well as libero (Lauren Bays) and setter (Rachel Fairbanks). Add right side Grace Chillingworth and it’s easy to see why Tstreet figures to be right back in the thick of the gold-medal hunt.
TAV 17 Black — Taking silver in 16s Open last summer, this year’s group takes it turn being coached by Ping Cao. He’ll have many of the same pieces from the 16s to work with. That includes outsides Charitie Luper and Natalie Glenn, as well as middle Jordyn Williams. That trio already made TAV’s attack explosive and the lineup gains even more firepower in the form of newcomer Lyric Stewart. Stewart played at Madfrog last season and was a key cog on the left. She could move to the right, return to the middle like she did in 15s, or play outside and allow the left-handed Glenn to play on the right.
A5 17 Mizuno Jing — A5 was undone by a tough draw in 16 Open in Indy – losing only to silver medalist TAV and bronze medalist Sunshine – and eventually finished tied for ninth. Some new additions figure to give A5 a boost as this roster moves up to 17s. One comes in 6-3 middle Ngozi Iloh, who was a key part of A5 South’s in recent seasons. She now teams up with 6-4 Jacque Boney to give A5 a dynamic duo in the middle, one that will torment the opposition with both blocking and attacking. A5 also picked up 6-4 right side Nicole Smith to get even taller. Her addition could allow Anabella Tolone to move back to the left side after playing on the right in the 16s. Or A5 could keep Tolone on the right and implement a 6-2 with Kalissa Greene and newcomer Ava Pitchford. Evoni Lemmons, Mary Emily Morgan and Katie Peddle are all options too on the pins. Defensively, A5 is as sound as it comes with Emery Dupes and Paeton Stoner holding it down in the back row. There figures to be an adjustment period as A5 settles in but comes JN’s Jing Hou’s group should be poised to strike.
Co Jrs 17 Kevin — Penn State-commit Anjelina Starck (6-3) moved from Nevada to Colorado after last year’s club season and her addition to the lineup could put Co Jrs 17 Kevin over the top. The team was already loaded with Riley Simpson (6-3) and Kinley Gomez (6-2) on the left, Rylie Kadel (6-1) and Carter Booth (6-7) in the middle, and Peyton Dunn (5-11) at setter. It’s likely going to take time to figure out how to best utilize Starck, who can pretty much do it all. Co Jrs could run a 6-2 and let Starck set and hit. But it’s more likely Co Jrs lets her hit either as a six-rotation right side or six-rotation left side. Considering the size and offensive potential, if Co Jrs tightens up its passing it could be lights out for the competition.
Hou Skyline 17 Royal — Ten of the 12 members of the 17s roster were part of the 16s which ended tied for fifth in 16 Open. That’s a lot of experience back at the right places, including with setter Mekaila Aupiu and libero Brooke Frazier. The core of the offense remains intact with 6-2 Bria Woodard, 6-2 Cimone Woodard, 6-0 pin Madeline Villarreal, 6-1 outside Ellie Echter and 6-1 middle Sania Petties. The added intrigue comes with the two newcomers in 6-4 RS Allie Sczech and 5-11 OH Sophia Keene. Both are playing up an age group. Sczech was part of the Hou Skyline roster that claimed 15 Open gold in Indy a year ago, while Keene held down one of the outside spots for surprise 15 Open 11th-place finisher TAV Houston 15 Black. What roles Sczech and Keene will play remain to be seen but they certainly add depth and give Hou Skyline lineup flexibility.