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An analytical look at Day 1 in USA Volleyball Junior Nationals 18s Open

If you’ve been over to Advanced Event Systems to check out results from the first day at the 2021 Girls 18s Junior National Championships in Columbus, Ohio, you’re probably trying to figure out which 24 teams will advance from pool play still in contention for a podium finish. Here’s a quick way to figure out what might happen tomorrow, with each team still having two matches to play.

First, stating the obvious, any team that made it through Day 1 with a 3-0 record is in great shape. There are 11 such teams, all but one are seeded first or second in their respective pools. The one outlier is San Gabriel Elite 18 Roshambo, whose 3-0 Friday included a three-set win, 26-24 in the second set to 25 AND 26-24 in the third set to 15, over OT O 18 Felix.

If you are 3-0 as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in a pool, you are almost certain to advance to Saturday night’s Challenge phase. That’s because, while the top two seeds do play one another, the No. 1 seed also plays the No. 5 seed and the No. 2 seed also plays the No. 4 seed.  A 4-1 record clinches advancement, so only one win out of the two matches is required to move on.

The same analysis does not apply to San Gabriel Elite, however. It had a great Friday to start 3-0, but cannot relax for even a minute, because two higher-seeded teams are on the slate for Saturday. It will need one win to be safe, but, if you trust the seeding, SGE will be the underdog in each match. It will need to come out with the same focus and determination it showed today to advance.

Take a look at how the No. 3 seeds did today in their pools. None went undefeated, but three of those teams, Arizona Storm Elite 18 Thunder, Tri-State Elite 18 Blue and Mintonette m.81, went 2-1. That’s almost as good as being unbeaten as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, because the No. 3 seeds are the only teams that tomorrow will face only lower-seeded opposition. If the seeding holds, expect these teams to finish 4-1, or no worse than 3-2, and be in the mix tomorrow night.

AZ Storm lost to undefeated Coast 18-1, but put itself in position to advance with a sweep of Pool 2’s top-seed, A5 18-Scott.

“When this team passes well, the rest kind of falls into place,” coach Jami Rolfes said. “I think in the two matches that we won, we passed well and we were able to run a balanced offense. We’re excited for tomorrow!”

“My team competed hard even during adverse situations,” Mintonette coach Audrey Flaugh said. “Our back court defense was strong today and led to transition attack kills. I thought we had individuals that served really well, too.”

Flaugh said that finishing top three at the end of pool play and advancing will depend on two factors.

“We can’t let teams get on big runs,” she said. “And we have to be creative in how we approach, adjust and defend against each opponent.”

Of the teams seeded No. 5 and No. 6 in their pools, only two, Northern Lights 18-1 and Oregon Juniors 18-1 Gold, won more than one match. Lights cannot be comfy with tomorrow’s opener versus national No. 1 TAV 18 Black to start things off, but OJs have to like their chances, given that they play the No. 3 seed and No. 5 seed in their pool. OJVA and 1-2 PVA 18 Elite are the only two No. 6 seeds with realistic shots to reach the Challenge phase.

WAVE 18 Kevin is one of two teams, along with TAV, to go through Pool 1 unbeaten on Friday. WAVE, San Gabriel and Union 18-UA all finished 3-0, which is mighty impressive considering that none of the three was able to qualify on its own and needed At-Large consideration to get into the field. The other two At-Large entrants, Rancho Valley 18 Premier and Fusion 18 Red, each went 1-2 and remains alive.

WAVE’s 3-0 day included a critical sweep of Northern Lights.

“This is a team that just plays with a ton of heart and loves competing,” assistant coach Rachel Morris said. “It doesn’t matter who is on the other side of the net, how big they are, where they are going to school or how good they are. This group hustles, works hard and will run through a wall for each other. Coming in as an At-Large team, they knew they had something to prove, especially after being seeded pretty high.”

Coast tops Pool 2 at 3-0. Head coach Ozhan Bahrambeygui knows how important it is to keep the foot on the gas and work towards finishing first in the pool.

“Getting first means one less match free from elimination and the fatigue that comes with it,” he said.

GJNC Day 1 4/24/2021
Coast was stuck in the elevator on Day 1

Coast today got exceptional play from Mckenna Branson and Brynne Faltinsky, both hitting above .500. Defenders Sarah Schrag and Gala Trubint also were very effective creating offense off of setter digs. The only thing that didn’t go right for the Southern California team was getting stuck in the elevator at dinner.

Adversity G18 Adidas and Houston Skyline 18 Royal are undefeated and leading Pool 3.

“All systems look strong and the team is poised and ready to battle on Day 2,” Skyline coach Cydryce McMillian said.  “Our passing and serving game were strong today. allowing our offense opportunities to synchronize early. We were able to distribute the ball across multiple players, showcasing our versatility. We are proud of our blockers and defenders for working hard at the net and on the floor as well.  It’s nice knowing our 4 juniors and 6 seniors have heart and a passion to press for excellence and to play for each other. Day 2 will bring out the best of the best and we will honor each opponent with our best in return.”

MAVSKC 18-1 and Premier Nebraska 18 Gold both are 3-0 in Pool 4 after one day.

MAVS has been battling injuries, but managed a 3-0 start thanks to strong passing, which allows veteran setter Kendra Wait to spread the offense out.

“For us, finishing first (in pool) is very important,” coach Beau Barnthson said. “We love to compete and win, but we are also battling some injuries, so finishing first would mean only having one challenge match tomorrow afternoon.”

Premier is competing in Columbus without a starting middle and its libero, and Lindsay Krause, one of the team’s superstar hitters, is relegated to playing libero/DS because of a January knee injury.

“Today we did a good job with our serve and pass game as well as our blockers really stepped up for us,” coach Shannon Smolinski said.

Tstreet 18 Kasia’s 3-0 Friday puts it in control of Pool 6.

“We had a great day today,” coach Kasia Ligwinska said. “The girls were focused, determined and committed to every game. They fully enjoyed themselves on the court.

We are ready and super excited for Day 2 tomorrow!”

Elevation 18 Goller is one of two 3-0 teams, along with Encore 18 Goldhahn, leading Pool 8.

Elevation’s winning day included rallying from down 14-12 in Game 3 to toppled Dallas Skyline 18 Royal.

“What a match,” Elevation coach Adam Goller exclaimed. “Both teams played very well and saw a lot of mid-match adjustments.”

Elevation not only fought off two match points in regulation, thanks to a three-point run, it twice faced match points against in extra time before prevailing, 20-18.

Encore’s 3-0 required THREE Game 3 victories.

“Definitely gave me some premature grey hair!” head coach Katie Goldhahn said. “Some of the sets we lost we warranted … lost the energy or got flat. However, I have to say that we showed complete composure in every third set and played good volleyball. Having Peyton Dweck back at libero and our middles firing helped. Looking forward to Day 2 to finish our pool and see what the crossover has in store for us. Just happy to play good volleyball and our girls playing loose and having fun!” Over in Pool 5, Colorado Juniors 18Kevin, the No. 5 overall seed, had a tough first day, going 1-2. CJ will need to be perfect tomorrow (two sweeps) to have a chance to advance.

“We struggled with our first contact today,” coach Kevin Marquis said. “Kinley Gomez is out with a season-ending injury. She is 60 percent of our passing.”

The team needed to bring up three players from its 17s team to complete a roster of 10.

“If we can be better with our first contact, we will be much improved tomorrow,” Marquis said. “If not, it will continue to be a struggle.”

OT 18 T Dexter is another team looking for a miracle after a 1-2 Friday in Pool 2. The team gets A5 to start  before taking on winless Club V 18 Ren Reed, a team it lost to previously.

Head coach Dexter Rogers admitted that the road to advancement was long and required a win over A5.

“We have to play free,” he said. “We’ve had some very competitive matches with A5 this year. We have to serve tough and hope for the best.”

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