Club season is upon us, especially for the 18s, who have an earlier USA Volleyball finish than the younger age divisions.
In less than two weeks, qualifying for USA Volleyball nationals gets under way for the 18s over MLK weekend in Chicago, Nashville and Kansas City.
In Chicago, there are 18 teams in the field, so all three bids will go out.
The tournament features local clubs like 1st Alliance 18 Silver, Adversity 18 Purple and MichioChicago 18 National, as well as clubs from the Midwest like Legacy 18-Adidas, MKE Sting 18 Gold, Michigan Elite 18 Mizuno, Mizuno M1 181, FC Elite 18 Elite and Circle City 18 Purple. Metro 18 Travel is there representing the East Coast, while Vision 18 Gold is carrying the torch for the West Coast.
As for Kansas City — once again the site of the Triple Crown Sports Preseason NIT — there are top clubs in action there too, even a tiny field. As of now, there are only eight clubs going for one bid. Among them are local clubs like KC Power 18-1, MAVS KC 18-1, as well as Premier Nebraska 18 Gold, CIA 18 Black and Six Pack 18.
There’s no such issue in Nashville, where 36 teams are registered and three bids will be handed out. It won’t be easy with clubs like A5 18-1 Scott, AZ Rev 18 Adidas, Elevation 18-1, Mintonette Sports m.81, Union 18 Asics and Top Select 18 Elite Blue.
In all, there are 16 qualifiers for the 48 spots available in 18s Open. The USAV 18s GJNC is set for May 1-3 in Reno. The AAUs 18s Championships are scheduled for May 23-25 in Orlando. There is no qualifying for AAUs. As for USAV qualifying, here is the schedule:
Jan 18-20: Chicago, Kansas City, Nashville
Jan. 31-Feb. 2: Columbus; Minneapolis
Feb. 21-23: Dallas; Atlanta
Feb. 28-March 1: Austin
March 6-8: Boston; Reno; Baltimore; Orlando
March 13-15: Denver
March 20-22: Indianapolis
March 21-23: Spokane
March 28-30: Las Vegas
May 1-3: USA Volleyball Girls 18s Junior National Championship, Reno, Nevada
(Click here for a link to all the 18s qualifiers)
What we know so far is if only one bid goes out in KC in two weeks, qualifying season will start with at least two at-large bids being in the mix in 18s Open. Additionally, as of now, there are only 11 teams in the field at NEQ and if that remains that way only one bid would be awarded there as well. There’s also a change to the last qualifier of the season.
This season qualifying closes out in the desert in Las Vegas at the SCVA Red Rock Rave. In year’s past, MEQ and PNQ were part of the final qualifying weekend. It made getting a bid at MEQ difficult because of the high number of teams already qualified and lack of trickle down. That doesn’t figure to change at all with the loaded field signed up in Indy.
Teams already accepted for 18s Open include Top Select, Union, Skyline 18 Royal, MN Select 18-1, MKE Sting, Mintonette, Michio, Metro, MAVS, Legacy, KC Power, Circle City, AVC and A5. The difference this year is it’s going to be the same way with the SCVA 18s qualifier.
Last year it took place in early March but this year we could likely see a full field of 48 teams. Already accepted for Las Vegas are clubs like AZ Rev, Coast, FRVBC 18 Black, Skyline 18 Royal, Mizuno Long Beach 18 Rockstar, Michigan Elite, Rockwood Thunder 18 Elite, Seal Beach 18 Black, San Gabriel Elite 18 Rosh, Sunshine 18 Westside and Wave 18 Kevin. There are going to be nervous teams there, since it’s the final weekend to punch an automatic ticket to Open.
Qualifying dominates the headlines once it starts, but it’s not the only thing going on.
The biggest and most competitive non-qualifier or championship of the season is, of course, Triple Crown. Last year, it moved to Kansas City after three years in Salt Lake City. The event is in KC once more and the field is absolutely packed for the tournament set up on President’s Day weekend. President’s Day weekend is busy, too, with events all over the country, including the SCVA Las Vegas Classic in Las Vegas.
As for Triple Crown, it’s the Who’s Who of high-caliber clubs. Of Triple Crown’s Top 100 Clubs Rankings, 80 are set to participate, which is remarkable. We’ll have plenty more on Triple Crown in the next few weeks, including the release of the Power Pools here on VolleyballMag.com.
Another 18s event to keep an eye out for is the 2020 Adidas Bluegrass Tournament in Louisville. It’s hosted by KiVA and features a strong lineup of 18s squads in Open. They include Adidas KiVA 18 Red, AVC Clev Rox 18 Red, Circle City, K2 18 Adidas Jota, MKE Sting, SPVB 18 Elite, Munciana 18 Samurai, Union and Tri-State Elite 18 Blue.
Some of the same clubs like Muncie, KiVA, SPVB and Circle City return a month later for the JVA World Challenge in Louisville. Also set to play at the World Challenge are top teams in Mintonette and TAV 18 Black. With an idea of the schedule ahead, let’s check in on what we perceive to be the best five 18s clubs this year.
TAV 18 Black — The defending 17s age group gold medalists suffered a blow during the high school season when outside Madison Williams was injured and will miss the upcoming club campaign. She’ll be missed for sure, yet her absence will be softened by Jenna Wenaas playing on the 18s for the second straight season. She was part of the 18s group that earned gold in Dallas last April and her ability to score at an elite level will keep TAV plugging along. While it would have been frightening to see TAV throw Williams and Wenaas at teams in tandem, TAV still has the ever-steady Paige Flickinger. She helps out in many ways and is one of the better passers. That’s important because TAV has the size to beat college programs. Leliah Smith (6-5) and Nnedi Okammor (6-4) middle pairs in the country. Iman Ndiaye (6-4) turned into one of the best terminators in her age group a season ago and could be unstoppable. Savannah Kjolhede (6-3) keeps it going on the right side with Ndiaye and setters Sydney Yap and Kate Lang know how to get them involved. We could be staring at another gold for this bunch.
Coast 18-1 — Passing the proverbial eye test, that’s Coast 18. Big and physical, there won’t be anything stopping Coast if it all comes together. Madi Endsley, at 6-3, carries the powerful arm on the outside but is hardly alone when it comes to providing size and strength. Middles Leyla Blackwell and Lindsey Miller are both 6-4. Right side China Rai Crouch is 6-5. Coast’s ‘small package’ includes 6-0 Sophia Callahan on either pin, as well as the 5-11 McKenzie Karnig and Nicole Prescott at outside. Even standout defenders Alex Lougeay (5-11) and Madi Allen (5-9) are taller for their position. If that’s not enough, Coast added impact 5-11 junior setter Molly Wilson to the mix. If Coast can stay motivated and keep focused throughout the season, it could be a special 2020 for the San Diego club.
Mintonette Sports m.81 — On paper, this lineup might have the most to overcome to win it all but that’s what makes this group so special – thriving at what Mintonette thrives at. That’s great passing, sound defense and limiting unforced errors. That type of relentless pressure wears other teams down and Mintonette knows how to capitalize. It starts with stud right side Emily Londot. No team can stop her on a regular basis and it’s made even more impressive by the fact everyone knows she’s getting set a ton by Scottee Johnson, who anchors that position for Mintonette. With Madyson Chitty holding down the libero spot and Raina Terry getting better and better on the outside, Mintonette is set up nicely at key spots. While Londot and Terry carry much of the offensive load, players like outside Skye Stokes and middle Maryanne Boyle can’t be overlooked. They know how to play their roles to perfection and only compliment what Mintonette likes to do.
Houston Skyline 18 Royal — We first saw a sampling of what this edition of Houston Skyline 18 Royal would look like last summer in Indy. After a successful regular season, the 17s were boosted by the addition of Madisen Skinner at outside. She had spent the first part of the year playing up on the 18s before joining her age group at junior nationals. Skyline wound up tied for fifth place. The same key contributors are back and that spells trouble for any opponent Skyline runs into. Skinner gives this team the high-flying banger on the outside all teams covet. She combines with the steady and reliable Dylan Maberry to give Skyline a great 1-2 punch on the left. Combine that with what the versatility of S/RS Reagan Rutherford brings to the lineup and the ability to attack in the middle through Claire Jeter — not to mention libero Nia McCardell — and there aren’t really any holes to fill. It’s going to come down to the same thing our next team must rely on to reach its full potential and that’s taking care of the ball. If Skyline can do that consistently, then watch out for big, big things in 2020.
Mizuno Long Beach 18 Rockstar — This unit was in position to medal in 17s Open in Indy but was stunned by Michio Chicago 17 National in the quarterfinals and kept from the podium. The same faces are back to make another run, anchored by senior libero Nalani Iosia and junior setter Kami Miner, as well as senior outside Starr Williams. Iosia provides sound defense and the ball control Long Beach needs to unleash its full attack, starting with Miner finding Williams plenty. She’s the team go-to attacker with a big right arm and can flat-out take over matches at times. Long Beach is also helped out a lot on the left by senior Abby Karich and her ability to find ways to score even against bigger blockers. There are options in the middle with Marisse Turner, Laila Ricks and Ariel Campbell, while Kai Nickerson provides another arm on either pin. Experienced and athletic, Long Beach is going to contend with the best of the best.