We continue with our “Hunch” rankings. To understand why these rankings are based largely in hunches, we invite you to peruse our preamble to the 18s rankings, which we published on Tuesday. You can find them by clicking here.

Today, we present the 17s and, again, it’s just a top 25. Beware that as the players get younger and younger, our knowledge base begins to diminish exponentially. The 16s and 15s rankings, which we hope to publish next week, should be even more problematic, especially as we have yet to see ANY of these teams ever. Thanks COVID!

In preparing the 17s, I do want to thanks the coaches of the teams in this age group. Your assistance in diligently completing our forms (a big ask, I know!) and in providing input into the rankings draft I circulated was invaluable to shaping the top 25. Without you, I would have been in deep trouble!

By the way, if you are a club coach (girls,15s-18s) and have yet to complete our form, whether you are top 25 or not, here’s the link to introduce your team to me: https://volleyballmag.wufoo.com/forms/mjjkdip02yxd7r/.

The form will help as I read about or see the good things you do on the court and give me ideas for the Daily Dots, which are nuggets and notions that run five days a week.

Thanks and, without further ado …

February 17s Hunch National Rankings
1. Sunshine 17 Los Angeles (California) — Four cornerstones from last year’s Sunshine 17 Westside team that was pre-season No. 6 – OHs Elia Rubin and Dani Thomas-Nathan, RS Kerry Keefe and MB Lucia Scalamandre – team with four from last year’s Surfside 16 MB Legends team that was pre-season No. 11 – dynamic setter Kelly Ballardi, monster middle Kennedy Hill, libero Megan Verbiest and 6-1 outside Skyler Gerhardt. This team, coached by legendary Cari Klein, just HAD to be No. 1! They are that good and have backed it up by winning two Premier Volleyball League 17s dates.

2. A5 17-Jing (Georgia) — One of the most physical teams in the country is poised to medal in 2021 after making changes to the setting position – bringing in Kate Bochniak and Rebecca Watkins — and adding an athletic attacker to the right side in AG Vandagriff. The offense features Alexa Markley (Penn State) and Cheridyn Leverette (UCLA) on the pins and Mikayla Hayden (Cal), Mari Singletary (Texas) and 6-3 Annemarie Rakoski in the middle. They will intimidate opponents in warm ups, then back it up during matches.  

3. Houston Skyline 17 Royal (Texas) — The team that Jen Woods will put on the floor during March and April will be very good indeed, with superb setter Maddie Waak feeding an offense that features pins Logan Ledicky, Alexis Dacosta and Brielle Warren and middle Morgan Perkins. But the team figures to be even that much more dangerous in June and July, when 6-4 RS Allie Sczech and libero Gabi Mansfield rejoin the team after playing up on the 18s. Both are big-time talents. Woods certainly is salivating over the prospect of a back court of Mansfield (Rice) and Ava Underwood (Texas A&M). The core group of this team won 15 Open two years ago and Woods said it will be disappointed in anything less than a podium finish this year. Makes sense!

4. AZ Storm Elite 17 Thunder (Arizona) — The top 16s team in Arizona last year got better with the addition of 6-4 middle Kate Prior from Las Vegas. Not that Terri Spann’s team wasn’t already good enough. The team boasts USC commit Jordan Middleton, perhaps the most dynamic attacker in the Class of 2022. Setter Anita Babic, MB Logan Blutreich, OH Kylie Moran and defenders Tatum Thomas and McKenna Douglas give this team exceptional balance. The team has been inconsistent to start with personnel rotating in and out of the lineup, but Spann should have this team improving and ready to go by the time the most important events come around.

5. Premier Nebraska 17 Gold (Nebraska) — Joe Wessel’s team is off to a hot start with wins at three major tourneys so far, including the Northern Lights Qualifier and Asics in Omaha over President’s Day. This is not a tall team, but the players more than make up for it with quickness, ball control and mental toughness. Libero Estella Zatechka and dynamic but undersized setters Madi Woodin and Maisie Boesiger make Premier dominant in the first two contacts. The addition of rally-extender Ella Hazen, who is balling as a smallish outside with great control, from last year’s 17 Gold team, certainly helps give the team more swings and more chances to score. Others front court impact players include right sides Ella Waters and Kealy Kiviniemi, outside Shaylee Myers and middles Sadie Millard and Emma O’Neill.

Adversity 17 Adidas

6. Adversity 17 Adidas (Illinois) — Adversity is off to a hot start to 2021, qualifying second at Northern Lights and following up with a win at the St. Louis President’s Day Classic. Head coach Kyle Masterson has essentially a whole new team from last year, as only three return from 16 Adidas, but the players obviously are meshing early. Three come over from 1st Alliance, including dynamic attacking and blocking middle Lindsay Oldendorf, superb libero Gillian Grimes and 6-1 S/pin Katie Hurta, whom Masterson called “the best all-around volleyball player in the state of Illinois, possibly the country. Six-rotation outside Rylen Reid, over from Sky High, is another impact newcomer. The team also has two, setter Bianca May and MB Ann Marie Remmes, playing 17s for a second straight year. Add Clemson commit Mia McGrath, one of the three from 16 Adidas, on the outside and this is a potentially great team come Junior Nationals.

7. Drive Nation 17 Red (Texas) — Remember frenetic coach Jacob Hanan from Lonestar? He’s now over at Drive Nation and brought the core of his talented 16s from last year with him. The team is 36-4 on the year, qualified third at Northern Lights and is “built to win a championship,” he said. DN is loaded with Division I talent and has five players who jump 10-0 or more, including OH Brynn Williams (Texas Tech; 10-5) and 6-4 MB Kelsey Perry (Iowa State; 10-5.5). Others to watch include MB/RS Zoe Hall, OH Camryn Hill, MB Bella Ortiz, libero Angela Henson and setters Jazzlyn Ford and Jordan Chapman. When Hanan completed our form he listed all 11 as “key players,” he said, because they are all high-level talents. “This team has what it takes and works together so well,” Hanan added. 

8. Madfrog 17 National Green (Texas) — Coach Shelly Tucker says she has talented players from 1-11 on her roster, which ended 2020 as the No. 1 team in North Texas. Nine players return from that squad and the Frogs have picked up where they left off last season, winning just about every match in its age group. Players to watch include outsides Maddie Pyles, Maya Duckworth and Avery Calame, S/RS Ana Heath, MB Ifenna Cos-okpalla, RS Mia Moore and liberos Zoria Heard and Chelsea George.

9. Circle City 17 Purple (Indiana) — The season is young but there’s already been a change at head coach for 17 Purple. Jacqueline Lux is now in charge and should do a terrific job. The team has had a great deal of success early in the season, finishing first at Central Zones and second to Adversity in St. Louis over President’s Day. This is not a tall team, but it plays big behind the sensational left-side tandem of Courtney Jones (Lipscomb) and unbelievable sophomore Chloe Chicoine, whom many in the college ranks believe is, inch-for-inch, the best player in junior volleyball currently. Setter Grace Reynolds and middles Ella Peter and Sky Moffitt are three others to watch on a team whose serving and defensive intensity hold the key to sustained excellence over the course of a long season.

10. Mizuno Long Beach 17 Rockstar (California) — Long Beach returns seven from last year’s talented group, which was ranked top five nationally before the shutdown. The players you know are S/RS Adonia Faumuina, one of the nation’s elite talents; terminating sophomore Mele Corral- Blagojevich and productive attacker Laura Williams. Others to watch include libero Mandi Morioka, MB Rylie McGinest, southpaw setter Natalia Hagopian and big blocking middle Keke Hall. The team is a little banged up right now but, with health, should be a medal contender.

11. Texas Advantage 17 Black (Texas) — This age group has not been a TAV strength the past few years but this team has an intangible that few possess: king making head coach Ping Cao. Cao simply produces champions. He’ll get to work with two good setters in Rosemary Archer and Harmony Sample, a terrific libero in Naylani Feliciano and two strong outsides, Janet Desmarrais and newcomer Aniya Clinton. Let’s see what he can do.

12. Dallas Skyline 17 Royal (Texas) — Nine of 11 are back for coach Kirk Perry and the team is off to a strong start, with just three losses so far. The team is led by its three big outsides, Emily Hellmuth, Lexi Guinn and Bailey Miller. All are 6-1 or taller with supreme terminating ability. The team also is sound on the defensive end, with Emily Canaan, Ava Camacho and Hannah Billeter, the latter of whom also can hit on the left. Lia Okammor is an impact middle, while Bayli Miller (yes two with the same name phonetically) is one of two fine setters.

13. Spike and Serve 17 Red (Hawai’i) — SAS was the second best team throughout the Islands last year as a 16s team and is improved for 2021. Coached by Olympian Kevin Wong, this team is blessed with two outstanding outsides, 6-3 Devin Kahahawai, one of the top hitters in her class nationally; and 6-2 Lucky Rose Williams. Grace Fiaseu is fearsome in the middle, Payton Oliviera is a talented libero and Wong has three capable setters: 6-0 sophomore Haiti Tautua’a, 5-7 senior Janne Kaniho (San Jose State) and 5-9 junior Jackie Matias (Hawai’i). On the form I ask coaches to submit, I inquire whether the team is top 100 worthy. Here’s how Wong responded: “We have 10 D1 players on this time and I’d be the world’s worst coach if I couldn’t navigate them to the top 100.”

14. NORCO 17 Black (Colorado) — Here’s how another 17s coach described this NORCO squad: “A team that won’t quit. They keep coming at you with big swings at the right time and a ball won’t hit the ground without at least two bodies on the floor going for it.” NORCO was the top-ranked 16s team in the RMR last year before COVID hit and has picked right back up again, placing second to Premier Nebraska in Omaha over President’s Day. The team’s catalyst is Alexis Stucky, the Wyoming HS POY. A Florida recruit, Stucky will set and hit. Other bigtime talents include lefty RS Emma Winters, MB Zoey Gibbs, S/Hitter Sidney Henry and libero Allison Waller, a newcomer from Rocky Select who has solidified the back row.

15. Academy Volleyball Cleveland 17 National (Ohio) — We don’t know much about this team going into 2021, other than passionate Mer Gromala is the coach and the team returns two explosive pin players in Caroline Jurevicius and Kathryn Randorf. OH Cadence Shea and setter Kirsten Barrett are two others for a team we are told is a top 10 team but underperformed in St. Loo on President’s Day.

16. Club Ignit Select 17 Blue (Iowa) — Ignit burst onto the scene in 2020 by winning 16 Open at Triple Crown. The team, which played as 15s as Central Iowa Select, returns 10 of 11 from last year’s squad and adds talented OH Faith DeRonde, who has great ball control and a heavy arm. She’ll join Ava Reynolds and Hayden Kubik on the outside to form a potent trio. Kubik, a Nebraska commit, is one of the nation’s elite hitters in the junior class. Other key players on this team include setter Lauren Carter, libero Alayna Finucan and RS Chloe Largent. Ignit went 6-2 in Omaha over President’s Day, losing to both VC Nebraska and NORCO. This is a really good team, but they won’t be sneaking up on anybody this year.

17. VC United 17 Elite (Illinois) — Wayne King has put together one fine team west of Chicago in Rockford and has shown it in 2021, with strong finishes at Central Zones and St. Louis on Prez Day despite playing without two key contributors. This team, which flat out competes, is led by setter Jayden Flynn, who stands 5-7 and might be the best small setter in the nation. She distributes to the likes of RS Rachel Scott, OH Maleah Howe, MBs Emma Schroeder and Savanah Brandt and, when they get healthy, outsides Ella Holmstrom (Indiana) and Kaitlin Leider (Bradley). Grace Betke, Kara Erdmann and Ireland Henry lead a very strong back row.

18. OTVA 17 O Roberto (Florida) — Coach Roberto Santosofia returns seven from last year’s team, which finished second in 16 Open at AAU Nationals. This team plays terrific defense and knows how to score at the net. Outsides Ana Julia Bleeker and Brianna Anderson and middles Amaya Thomas and Anna Kate Herrington highlight the returning players. The team got a boost on the pin with the addition of 6-1 Ava Swain, a strong, experienced hitter committed to UNC. Ole Miss recruit Emma Schwieger also is a newcomer and can excel playing on the right or in the middle.

Northern Lights 17-1

19. Mizuno Northern Lights 17-1 (Minnesota) — Lights has had strong showings at both the Northern Lights Qualifier (4th) and the Asics President’s Day tournament (aka “Omaha”) (3rd). Head coach Andy Guggisberg said that his team needs to be consistent for three straight days in order to be even better. This is a team with big size – 6-6 MB Kendal Kemp, 6-4 OH Britt Carlson – and the ability to terminate (Carlson and fellow pins Sienna Ifill, Julia Hanson, Estelle Haugen and Kaitlynn Peterson). Key to this team’s success will be the first two contacts. Libero Simara Amador and Peterson, a move-in from Oregon with a relentless game and libero first-touch ability, will be key on the pass. Emma Berran and Madelyn Converse are the setters.

20. Nebraska Elite 17-Alpha (Nebraska) — The core group of this team won the AAU 16 Open title last summer. Dr. Andrew Wehrli, the team’s coach, said this iteration is even better with the addition of physical middle Bianca Martinez, who touches 10-2. She’ll team with Amanda Loschen to give Nebraska Elite a commanding net presence. The team also will dominate the first two contacts, with libero Katie Galligan (Wichita State) and OH/DS Kylie Weeks (Arkansas) providing the foundation for Abby Schomers’ buttery sets. Bailey Helzer, Ava Heyne and Sydney Raszler are three who can score.

21. Coast 17-Rodrigo (California) — Coast is a scrappy, hard-working unit with decent ball control and powerful offensive tools. It showed its mettle by winning a PVL event in December, where it handed No. 1 Sunshine LA its only loss of the season. OH Rylee Schulz is one of only four who returns from last year. The newcomers join from Forza1, Mizuno Long Beach, Surfside and WAVE. Skilled MB Kylie Berg, tall, instinctive libero Jordyn Schilling and experienced, consistent setter Shanelle Puetz are among those expected to make lasting impacts.

Wave 17 Rachel

22. WAVE 17 Rachel (California) — WAVE is in the mix of 6-7 quality teams in Southern California after the top two of Sunshine LA and Mizuno Long Beach. Rachel Morris’ squad has good ball control and height and, most importantly, has Morris guiding them, so you know they are always going to fight. Libero Anna Pringle, setter Brooklyn Burns and OH Gabby McLaughlin are among eight returning players on a team that finished T-5 at Triple Crown in 16 Open last February. Ultra-physical RS Avry Tatum, fiery MB Claire Deller and high flying attacker Keelan Williams are among the newcomers who make this team that much better.

23. Sunshine 17 Westside (California) — The core of this team finished sixth in the SCVA as 16s last year and has to be motivated with its LA sisters sitting atop the rankings. Eight return off that team for head coach Kyle Weindel, including sophomore OH Jaida Sione, who stands 6-2; 6-0 OH Sophia Lindus, setter Maeve Loughran and MB Jalen Tennyson. The team added a high level setter in Ava Launsbach to share setting duties and welcome Kylee Owens, who provides an elite arm on the right and the ability to pass and score points in six rotations. Big-blocking RS Bridget Brady and ball control ace Elliana Moreno also add to the excitement for this budding team, which is currently ranked second in the Premier Volleyball League and has wins over the likes of Mizuno Long Beach, Coast and WAVE.

24. OTVA 17 T Jason (Florida) — Olivia Mogridge, a 6-5 middle committed to North Carolina, joined this team for AAUs after playing for Boomers to start the season and helped it tie for third in 16 Open at AAUs. She’s with the team full-time now and is a huge upgrade on a team that has an elite setter in Victoria Hensley and other All-State caliber assets like OH Gia Padilla and MB Reese Friar. Jason Partington’s team also has other exciting newcomers, like S/RS/OH Mya Woods from OTVA 16 Robert and libero Jessie Golden from Siesta Key Juniors. We rank 17 Jason behind 17 Roberto for best in the Sunshine State accolades, but don’t be surprised if this team ends up having the better season. They have great chemistry and versatility.

Houston Juniors 17 Elite

25. Houston Juniors 17 Elite (Texas) — With all the good teams in the Lone Star State in this age group, Jeff Ham’s HJV squad is being overlooked somewhat. I’m bullish, however. The team has two elite setters in Casey Batenhorst and Kam Scroggins, a strong libero in Nylah Raspberry and added OH Paris Hermann and 6-2 lefty RS Bella Woodard to a potent pin attack that also features Madison Morgan, Fallon Thompson and Sophie Agee.

Other teams to watch (in alphabetical order):
1st Alliance 17 Silver (Illinois)
Absolute 17 Black (California)
Asics KiVA 17 Red
Dynasty 17 Black
Forza1 17 UA
Legacy Adidas 17-1
Metro 17 Travel
(Washington D.C.)
Munciana 17 Pandas (Indiana)
North Carolina Academy 17 Diamond (North Carolina)
Rockwood Thunder 17 Elite
San Gabriel Elite 17 Roshambo
Team Indiana Elite 17 (Indiana)
Triangle 17 Black (North Carolina)
Tri-State Elite 17 Blue
Tstreet 17-Naseri (California)

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