The start of the new year on the boys juniors club circuit means one thing: the kickoff to the junior national qualifier season.

That began in earnest last weekend with the Southern California Volleyball Association-hosted Junior Boys Invitational in Anaheim.

And for the Balboa Bay 18 Blue team, it meant picking up where it had left off. Balboa Bay, under the direction of Long Beach State men’s coaching staff member Andy Read, previously won the SCVA Boys Holiday Classic in Anaheim and followed that up by winning the Invitational 18 Open crown and punching its ticket to USA Volleyball Junior Nationals at the Reno (Nevada)-Sparks Convention Center in July.

“We fought really hard,” Read said. “We went three sets four times and dropped the first set every time. Our guys fought back and it was because of our depth. Everybody played a significant role for us. Our four outsides played huge roles for us. If a guy was struggling a little bit, the guy who came in for him played great. It was a great run for us.”

Balboa Bay downed 949 in three sets in the semifinals and then upended Coast 18 Jake in three in Anaheim to take the crown. Between the Holiday Classic and the Junior Boys Invitational, Balboa Bay went 18-0.

Read referenced outsides Sebastian Rodriguez (Long Beach State), Shane Premier, Cole Rasic and Tommy Senske as being keys. He also heavily praised the play of setter Bryce Dvorak (Pepperdine). Rodriguez had been sidelined since the fall.

“Bryce was our player of the tournament,” Read noted. “He was great. As a setter, he’s as good as there is in the class. He doesn’t miss and he’s technically sound. He’s like a Real Estate: location, location, location. He also has a hammer jump serve, can block on the right side and locate everything. He checks a lot of boxes. He’s what you want in a good setter.”

Read added right side Geste Bianchi was a needle-mover for Balboa at the Holiday Classic. Libero Jaden Glenn (UC Santa Barbara) will return from injury this spring.

“Every guy we put in there upgraded us,” he said. “Our depth and our volleyball IQ and our ability to play the game is super high right now.”

Read noted Balboa Bay continues to work on its middle attack, which includes Pepperdine-bound Austin Chandler. “We have to continue to work our middle,” he said. “I think our middle can be great. It will have to be great. Our ability to quick set more often in different situations is the biggest thing. We have good middles who are learning how we want to attack people out of that position.”

Looking ahead to Reno, Read said the 18 Open circuit is as strong as ever. “There are a lot of good teams and big, physical teams in the 18s bracket,” he said. 

Balboa Bay 17 Blue: In addition to the Balboa Bay 18s, Balboa Bay 17 Blue, under the direction of coach Matt Marrujo, took home gold in Anaheim, besting MB Surf 17s in the final.

It was one step up for Balboa Bay, which took second at the Holiday Classic, losing to Rockstar 17s in the championship there.

“Our serve-receive passing was very consistent all weekend and kept us in system offensively,” Marrujo noted. “Our transition offense also was the best it has been all season. Being able to score after getting a block touch or dig is extremely important to be able to win big matches.”

Marrujo likes the depth he has on the roster.

“Our biggest reason for success is the depth of our team,” he said. “We have 11 good volleyball players who play hard and play great team volleyball.”

On that long list of talent is setter-right side Gabe Dyer, outsides Dane Hills (Long Beach State commit) and Grant Oh, along with setter-right side Riley Oh.

“We are very fortunate to have a lot of very good volleyball players, but Gabe, Dane, Riley and Grant were all very good all weekend,” said Marrujo.

Marrujo labeled libero Brendan Read and middle Kyle McKibbin as unsung heroes.

“They both are playing great, high-level volleyball, and are really taking care of a lot of little things that help our team be successful,” he said.

In the final against Surf, Marrujo noted serving was a difference-maker. “I thought all six of our servers did a great job bringing constant serving pressure with very few errors, which allowed us to play great defense and go on some scoring runs. MB Surf is a great team and this was a fun match.”

In surveying the 17s landscape, Marrujo has been impressed with the likes of Dillon Klein (OH, MB Surf), Klistan Lawrence (OH-RS, 352 out of Florida) and Ben Coordt (OH, Rockstar).

“We need to continue to work hard in the practice gym,” Marrujo said. “We talk to these guys about making the most out of every touch they get and they will need to take that mentality into their high school season so they continue to improve on their individual skill sets. I’m looking forward to getting back in the gym with these guys this summer to get ready for Reno.”

MB Surfs 16s

Manhattan Beach Surf 16s: Bob McCarthy, the 2019 boys club coach of the year, has his Manhattan Beach Surf 16s team humming on all cylinders.

Surf went 9-0 and 18-2 in sets to take the 16 Open title at the Invitational in Anaheim. The 9-0 showing pushed them to 20-2 overall. Surf is No. 2 in Southern California based on points acquired in SCVA tournaments. The team finished fifth in the Boys Holiday Classic.

“We were close to full strength,” McCarthy noted. “We have had two starters who did not play in the Boys Classic. One is recovering and will be available in June when we return from high school volleyball.”

McCarthy noted Surf has switched to a 5-1 offense, which has paid dividends. “The players who returned from the USA Volleyball Holiday Camp in Poway played some inspiring volleyball,” he said.

Setter Ryan Sprague, libero Mick Bakos and 15 Open MVP Owen Loncar led the way.

“Most notably, Ryan created lots of opportunities for our hitters to go one-on-one or a split block for our attackers,” McCarthy noted. “He is responding to his role as a strong leader on our team. Our passing and defense from Mick has been on point, and Owen was very efficient in our three playoff games of the Invitational. Mick is an elite libero, passes and plays great defense. Ryan is an exceptional blocker and playmaker who can shut down our opponents’ best attacker. Owen is a complete player and hits over the block and has made a commitment to improving all facets of his game. Ryan Vena has hit for a very high efficiency at .400 and has great range in his attacking. He also scores with a potent jump serve.”

Loncar hit .357 vs Coast, HP St. Louis and Bay to Bay in the final.  MB Surf downed Coast in three to kick off Gold bracket action (losing the first set) and then downed HP St. Louis in two in the semis before engineering a come-from-behind win against Bay to Bay (25-17 loss in the first) in the final.

“The final was very lopsided in Set 1. We made lots of unforced errors,” McCarthy said. “We made a few adjustments in the second and third sets and played great defense, passed efficiently and served with precision.

“Much of our success was in the balance we had in our side-out scoring. We used all our hitters and they all contributed. I think we kept our opponents off-balance with production from all five attackers. We also played inspiring defense and made several in-game adjustments. Our guys were flexible with the game plan and did whatever it took to get the job done. Our team chemistry has changed and we are supporting each other better on every point and staying positive, regardless of the score.”

McCarthy has seen plenty of firepower in the 16 Open division thus far, including Theo Snoey from Bay to Bay, Christopher Hersh and Patrick Kane from MVVC. He’s also been impressed by Balboa Bay, which tied for fifth in Anaheim. MVVC tied for third with HP St. Louis.

“Going forward, our team has to stay healthy, work hard to always be a family on the court and improve during the high school season,” McCarthy said. “The outlook for Reno is buoyed by this past weekend’s results and the understanding we can still play better at junior nationals. I like our chances in Reno and can’t wait to coach our guys again in June.”

Manhattan Beach Surf 17s: The Surf 17s team finished second in Anaheim, losing to Balboa Bay 17 Blue in the finale. Coach Kevin Endsley noted after a quick check of the AES website his squad has gone 13-3 over its last two tournaments.

“We don’t track our win/loss record because we do not believe it is a reflection of our growth and success,” he explained.

Surf was third at the Boys Holiday Classic.

“Our success (at the Invitational) is a result of our team playing MB Surf volleyball,” Endsley noted. “We use that phrase often because it means a lot to us. As a team, we formed a goal at the outset of a season, put a process in place to reach that goal and then executed that plan while dealing with adversity internally and externally. Our hope is the boys will continue with this mindset through the high school season and perform it at a high level when we are hack training the Surf gym.”

Endsley labeled the Surf showing in Anaheim as a team effort.

“What stood out to us as coaches the most was our team volleyball,” he explained. “We do have players that might stand out to others watching, but their success is dictated by the success of one of their teammates. Our middle blockers did an extraordinary job of making themselves available for the offense and running our block defense. Our right sides set the edge of our block and terminated balls when called upon. Our outsides, defensive specialists and liberos prioritized serve-receive and serving, which allowed them to execute those skills at a high level. Our setters did a great job of running our offense and putting their hitters in a position for success.”

Surf’s starting lineup in Anaheim included the aforementioned Klein (OH), Max Gordon (OH-libero), Mike Faloona (OH-libero), Teddy Terrill (MB), Brennan Morgan (MB), Jack Kane (RS) and setter Troy McDonald. Other contributors to the team include Sam Lamkin (OH), Nolan Brandt (setter), Brandon Bostel (MB), Matthew Closson (RS), Gus Wibbelsman (libero) and Will Coppedge (libero).

“Our outlook and expectation is to win the national championship,” Endsley said. “We know that won’t be easy and there is a lot owe need to get better at to get to that level, but we are all on the same page about that, and that is where we want to be at the end of the year. We have to stay focused on the elements we can actually control. From a straight volleyball perspective our goal is to get 1 percent better every day. For some kids, it might be working on attacking and blocking, while for others it might be serving or passing. In the end, we need to keep getting better at competing, being open to feedback, looking for the right opportunities to grow and having tough conversations when conflict presents itself so we can find solutions.”

HP St. Louis 16s: High Performance St. Louis 16 Royal made the journey to Anaheim and tied for third in the 16 Open Division, earning a bid to Reno.

Under the direction of 2008 Olympic gold medalist Scott Touzinsky, HP St. Louis, played in a variety of ladder series prior to coming to Anaheim. It played in a pair in St. Louis against 17- and 18-year-old squads, making it to the top court in once instance against its 18 Royal team. HP St. Louis also went 4-2 in a ladder series in Chicago.

In Anaheim, HP St. Louis had a long trek to the Gold bracket. It went 1-2 in pool play and then went 2-1 in the second round before defeating Pacific Rim 16-1 in its first gold match and then dropping a 25-19, 25-22 contest to Surf in the final.

“It was a complete effort of everyone buying into the system we have in place and it showed how hard they have worked from Day 1,” Touzinsky said. “It was a great team effort. Everybody played phenomenal. We did a really good job of competing and playing as a team.”

Two cogs for HP St. Louis have been middle blocker Ethan Walter and libero Tanner Dougherty.

“Ethan is an offensive machine,” Touzinsky noted. “Tanner is an all-around great player.”

Touzinsky said 16 Open will be tough terrain to navigate once June hits. “They are all good, but definitely MB Surf, Bay to Bay and Balboa Bay are contenders,” he said. “Our outlook is the same as it was at the beginning of the year. We want to win JOs in Reno. We have a lot of work to go, but we have to keep working on our system and playing hard every day.”

Bay to Bay’s Theo Snoey (96) and Ryan Duross

Bay to Bay 16s: Bay to Bay 16s was one of six teams in the Bay-area-based club to earn a junior nationals bid at the Junior Boys Invitational in Anaheim.

Bay to Bay went 8-1 overall and 17-3 in sets, losing to MB Surf in three in the title match. This was the first 16s tournament of the year for coach Chad Gordon’s squad. It had played in the 18-and-under Fall Northern California Power League where it finished ninth.

“I thought we handled the moment pretty well,” Gordon said. “MB Surf is a polished 16s team that has been in these big matches. Bob McCarthy (Surf head coach) does great with those guys. Our serve and pass held up well. We attacked with great range and created opportunities to score in transition with our block and defense. We’re proud of our effort.”

Bay to Bay has been powered by 6-8 outside Snoey, 6-4 outside Ryan Duross and 5-8 libero Joe Wallace.

“We have seen these guys grow up quickly this fall to not only handle playing in big matches, but learning how to drive the bus on their own with less hand-holding from the coaches,” Gordon said. There has been some turbulence during this transition, but developing players who can think for themselves and solve problems on the fly will only benefit these guys moving forward.”

Jack Graves attacks for A4 Volley

A4 Volley 15s: The A4 Volley 15s Purple squad based out of Foothill Ranch, California, finished second at the Invitational behind Team Rockstar.

Coach Tyler Strickland’s crew has racked up a 28-9 record, which includes SCVA qualifiers and mandatory tournaments. A4 went 16-4 between the Boys Holiday Classic and the Junior Boys Invitational. A4 finished fifth with an 8-2 mark at the Holiday Classic.

“My team focused on out-of-system offense during most of our training,” Strickland pointed out. “On top of that, we had multiple players step up in positions outside of their primary role. Our offense started to mesh in-system and our defense came up really big as well.”

Strickland explained his group went into the Rockstar match with the idea of attacking Rockstar’s best player. “The team competed well against great competition,” he said. “For my team’s first time being in a finals, they responded well after a slow start. Rockstar is very well-coached and their players competed well and played a great match.”

Strickland has been particularly pleased with the development of Noah Huang. “He is a great athlete who is playing middle after he spent most of his time as an outside,” he said. “He’s really been growing there for us.”

Strickland explained after running a 6-2 for the majority of the season, he dispatched setter Zachary Tan to an outside slot at the Invitational. “Zachary stepped up and played extremely well, considering he doesn’t practice that position regularly.”

Also in Anaheim, Jack Graves, Strickland noted, was the team’s best offensive option, “and really led the team in crucial matches,” he said. “Jack has grown tremendously, developing into one of the better outsides offensively in his age group.”

Ryan Graves ran the offense out of the 5-1 formation. “He really ran the offense and the team very well,” Strickland noted. “He also was consistently effective from behind the service line. Ryan brings a competitive edge to his leadership role. Ryan really has done a great job running our offense and improving as a great team leader.”

Shane Aiken provided the glue in the back row.

“Shane played an amazing role as a libero,” said Strickland. “He consistently passed well and came up big for us defensively. Shane has stepped up being the go-to player as a libero on our team, taking a lot of the court in serve-receive and being a consistent defensive presence, making it possible to run our offense.”

Strickland liked the way Rockstar outside Nicholaus Iamaleava played.

“He is an amazing player and an amazing athlete,” he said. “It’s really impressive how he handles being the main option for his team.”

Strickland also had high praise for MB Surf outside Sean Kelly and Balboa Bay’s George Bruening. “Sean Kelly is a player who has tremendous range both offensively and defensively,” he said. “He is a really impressive and fun player to watch. George is a physical presence as a blocker and can hit the ball with great range.”

Strickland said with his group, the future remains bright.

“The outlook for my team is to keep improving ball control and offensive options,” he said. “I have kids capable of playing multiple positions, giving me the options as a coach to change my lineup and provide them with as much knowledge about the game as I can. This is a great group of kids that I have been able to coach and mentor. I’d be doing a disservice to my supporting cast, which is their families. They have truly helped this team be a family, and I can’t thank them enough for their support and opportunity to work with these young athletes.”

SCVA Boys Junior Invitational Open Bids
18: 949 B18 Black, AZ Fear 18, Balboa Bay 18 Blue, COAST 18 Jake, Future 18 Elite, MB Surf 18s, SCVC 18, MSAVC 18-1, 18 Rockstar
17: 352 Elite, Balboa Bay 17 Blue, Bay to Bay 17-1, MB Surf 17s, 17 Rockstar, WAVE 17 Jed
16: Balboa Bay 16 White, Balboa Bay 16 Blue, Bay to Bay 16-1, COAST 16-Chris, HPSTL 16 Royal, MB Surf 16s, MVVC 16 Red, Pacific Rim 16-1, Spike and Serve Boys 16 Red
15: 352 Elite 15 Lime, 949 15 Black, A4 Volley 15 Purple, Balboa Bay 15 Blue, Bay to Bay 15-1, MB Surf 15s, SCVC 15, 15 Rockstar, WAVE 15 Nick
Note: According to USA Volleyball, all of the above listed teams accepted bids to Reno.

Next Week: A look at the No Dinx Boys Far Westerns qualifier in San Mateo, California.

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