As teams continue locking up Open bids for the USA Volleyball 18s championships in Reno in early May, six more clubs qualified over the weekend in Dallas and Atlanta.
Skyline 18 Royal, TAV 18 Black and Austin Juniors 18 Mizuno wrapped up bids in Texas with A5 Mizuno 18-Scott, Seal Beach 18 Black and OT 18 Dexter doing the same in Georgia. There was no trickle down involved in either of those qualifiers. The only qualifier to date where trickle down has factored in was in Ohio. There, previously-qualified Mintonette Sports m.81 and Legacy 18 Adidas finished 1-2, with PNK, Top Select 18 Blue and Metro 18 Travel benefitting from trickle down.
However, moving forward, trickle down is likely to play a role in the remaining nine qualifiers, starting with this weekend’s event in Austin. Already with bids at the Lone Star Qualifier are Austin Juniors, Houston Juniors 18 Elite, Legacy, MAVS KC 18, Skyline and TAV. That’s six teams, meaning if all six finish in the top eight, only two teams can qualify as trickle down can’t go beyond eighth place.
Houston Skyline 18 Royal, KC Power 18-1, Excel 18 National Red, Austin Skyline 18 Royal, Alamo 18 Premier and San Gabriel Elite 18 Rosh are among the teams chasing bids in Austin and must contend with the six previously-qualified clubs. It’s possible all three bids still go out just as it’s possible trickle down doesn’t come into play if teams without bids finish 1-2-3. The more likely scenario however is trickle down playing a determining role in which teams qualify this weekend, as well as moving forward.
Looking at Atlanta — In its first qualifier at Music City in Nashville, A5 lost to Union 18 Asics in gold pool play and that prevented A5 from playing in the gold bracket and earning a bid. It was A5’s only loss and it was a tough one to take. Staying home and playing at the Beast of the Southeast three-day tournament this past weekend, A5 again lost just once. But this time it came at an affordable time and A5 was fortunate enough to earn a chance to avenge it as well. A5 got its payback by downing Seal Beach, 25-23, 25-23, in the final. Though both had earned bids by that point regardless of the result, it was Seal Beach beating A5 25-23, 27-25 to end the second day.
“It was great,” A5 coach Scott Shelley said of the rematch. “A couple of our girls were leaving the venue Saturday and said they wanted another shot at Seal Beach. Whether it was the next day or down the road, they wanted another shot. The matches could’ve gone either way.
“The first match they got up big both sets and we battled back to keep it close. Sunday it was the complete opposite. We were in control of both sets but they kept battling back to keep it close. They are a good team. They have the first contact with serve receive and defense and that’s a ton to handle. One thing we’ve been putting a lot of focus on is being a good first contact team so if we can out contact a team like that it’s a big deal.”
Beating Seal Beach was nice but the signature victory for A5 came against Mintonette to open the final day. A5 won 25-17, 25-17, sweeping a Mintonette team that finished first at Music City and Ohio.
“We played great,” Shelley said. “The last few years we have developed a healthy, friendly rivalry with those girls. They talk to each other when they aren’t playing and things like that. When we dropped the match to Seal Beach Saturday, no one wants to lose but the girls were texting each other saying they get a chance to play Mintonette.”
A5’s victory comes on the heels of the club taking second at the prestigious Triple Crown Sports NIT tournament over President’s Day weekend in Kansas City. A5 fell to Legacy in straight sets 25-20, 28-26 in the 18 Elite championship. Its’ only other defeat came to Houston Jrs to open play on Day 1. In between the losses, A5 racked up some impressive victories, including beating Top Select, North Pacific Jrs 18 Forefront and Coast 18-1, all of which are already qualified for 18 Open in Reno.
“One of our themes the last couple of weeks before the match starts is we say the end of the match isn’t written yet,” Shelley said. “Don’t go in thinking you know the outcome. We just need to be ourselves, play our game and see what happens.”
Seal Beach is taking on a lighter schedule than most teams that will qualify for 18 Open. The So Cal squad is playing in just two qualifiers but after earning a bid in Atlanta won’t have to sweat its trip to Las Vegas at the end of March. Seal Beach was on a roll until being stopped by A5 in the final for its only loss. Seal Beach did go three before beating Memphis Jrs 18 Elite 25-23, 16-25, 15-11, to reach the final.
OT had a rocky ride by contrast. The Florida club lost to A5 on Day 1 and to both Mintonette and USANY Fortitude on Day 2. OT only moved on after beating A5 Mizuno 18 Boba 25-19 in a one-game playoff. However, after beating Memphis Jrs on Day 3, OT had its bid secured without playing another match. Mintonette was already qualified and thus the teams didn’t play the third-place match, since it wouldn’t have mattered in terms of the bid.
The qualifier did feature two more previously-qualified teams in PNK and Top Select. PNK finished in seventh, while Top Select tied for 11th.
Dallas at a glance — There were no teams with previous bids competing in Dallas, making it a race for one of the top three spots. It was Skyline taking charge, going 9-0 and coming out ahead of the field after escaping TAV in three 21-25, 25-19, 15-12 in the gold final. It was TAV’s only loss, with the real drama falling on the third-place match. In that one, it was Austin Jrs sweeping Austin Skyline 25-23, 25-19 to secure the last bid. It was a turnaround from Day 1, when Austin Skyline swept Austin Jrs 25-20, 25-21.
Where things stand — As we head into March, we’ll be halfway through the qualifying season after this weekend’s Lone Star event. For now though, there have been 19 bids awarded with two available through at-larges. That leaves 27 more spots to fill. As we said in the intro, trickle down is likely to play a factor and could very well open up more at-larges. Here’s how the bids have gone so far:
Chicago: Circle City; Sky High; Legacy
MLK KC: MAVS
Music City: Mintonette; Union; NPJ
Ohio Valley: Mintonette*; Legacy*; PNK; Top Select; Metro
Northern Lights: Coast; HJV; Apex1
Dallas: Skyline; TAV; AJV
Beast of the Southeast: A5; Seal Beach; OT Dexter
Triple Crown NIT — Legacy 18 Adidas joined Mintonette as clubs to double-qualify for 18 Open ahead of Triple Crown two weekends ago in KC. Yet, Legacy was hardly a tournament favorite despite opening up in Power Pool A. And it remained that way after the Michigan club finished the first day going 1-2, beating Houston Skyline in three, but falling to Coast in three and getting swept by MAVS. But we’ve seen teams not win in power pool before and go on to take home the trophy, Legacy being the latest after reeling off six victories in a row over the final two days. The last came over surging A5 25-20, 28-26.
“I don’t want to say it was unexpected but we did put it all together,” Legacy coach Bryan Lindstrom said. “Some other teams got knocked off, but it’s how you battle through it. MAVS beat us first round then lost to Rockwood Thunder, so we played Rockwood and not MAVS again. A5 had a heck of a run themselves but I felt they didn’t have it in the finals.”
Legacy had a smooth Day 2, not dropping a set in sweeping Xceleration Blue 18-1, PVA 18 Elite and EC Power 18 Royal. The final day opened up with a rematch against Mintonette, which defeated Legacy in the final of the Ohio Valley Qualifier. This time though, Legacy had the answer and fended off Mintonette in three 25-17, 23-25, 15-9.
“Mintonette is a huge match up for us,” Lindstrom said. “We were motivated for it. We always laugh because we see Mintonette everywhere. We have a handful of girls playing together in college. We have that mutual respect.”
Instead of having a rematch with MAVS, Legacy swept Rockwood Thunder 25-19, 25-20, to reach the final. Lindstrom credited libero Kennedy Dolmage with an impressive performance in the championship match, while adding right side Lauren King has “turned into a blocking machine.”
One of the cooler parts of winning Triple Crown was the 18s’ victory came 30 seconds before Legacy 15 Adidas capped off its run to the 15s title. Legacy certainly put the 15s division on notice with its undefeated streak to the 15 Elite crown. Legacy’s toughest matches came against Alamo 15 Premier in the final and Tstreet 15 Chris in the semis. The showdown with Tstreet was a rematch from day one, when Legacy swept 25-18, 25-18. The second time around Tstreet extended it to three before Legacy prevailed 23-25, 25-20, 15-13. In the final, Legacy outlasted Alamo 25-21, 27-29, 15-12. Every other victory was a sweep, including beating Wave 15 Brent and A5 Mizuno 15 Bob on Day 1 and Northern Lights 15-1 in the quarterfinals.
In 17 Elite, A5 Mizuno 17 Jing went 8-1, defeating Sunshine 17 Westside 25-16, 22-25, 16-14, in the championship match. A5 opened in Power Pool A, going 2-1 with victories against Coast 17-1 and Tstreet 17 Naseri before falling to Co Jrs 17 Kevin 25-20, 25-23. That was A5’s only setback. Premier Nebraska 17 Gold challenged A5 in the quarterfinals, but A5 made it through in three 23-25, 25-20, 15-12 before handling Houston Skyline 17 Royal in the semis in straight sets 25-18, 25-16.
Club Ignit Select 16 Blue finished runner up a season ago in 15 Elite but wasn’t going to be denied this time. The Iowa club topped everybody by beating Arizona Storm 16 Thunder in three 19-25, 25-21, 15-7, for the 16 Elite championship. OT 16 Jason was the only team to down Club Ignit, winning the Day 1 clash 25-20, 25-19. Club Ignit started off in Power Pool B, picking up victories against Coast 16-1 and LoneStar 16 Red. Club Ignit barely survived its challenge match with MuscleVB 16-1, winning 25-15, 19-25, 15-12 to remain in contention. Club Ignit reached the finals after clipping Skyline 16 Royal in three 25-20, 18-25, 18-16, in the semifinals.