The USA Volleyball Girls 18s Junior National Championships in Columbus, Ohio, went from 48 teams to eight on Saturday.
There were some massive surprises, none more so than AZ Storm Elite 18 Thunder bouncing national No. 1 and previously undefeated TAV 18 Black in the Challenge phase.
Storm, the third seed in Pool 2, won twice in its opening pool to finish 4-1, matching that of Coast 18-1 and A5 18-Scott. Coast won the pool, which pushed Storm into TAV’s bracket and required the Arizona squad to win twice to reach the quarterfinals.
Jami Rolfes’ team swept two close games from Circle City 18 Purple, which was one of only two teams to advance out of its pool with a 2-3 record; then shocked the tournament by sweeping TAV.
AZ Storm will take on Elevation 18-Goller in a Sunday quarterfinal. Adam Goller’s team is one of just two unbeaten teams remaining in contention for the title.
“Elevation has been great at making good decisions and being very low error all weekend,” Goller said.
In our story here after Day 1, two coaches yesterday stressed the importance of coming out first in pool play, because that would require just one match win rather than two to make the Gold bracket. Indeed, six of the eight pool winners took advantage of the extra rest to sweep to the quarterfinals. All six of those teams faced opponents that had to play three tough sets just to get to that match!
The aforementioned TAV and Tri-State Elite 18 Blue were the two pool winners that didn’t make the final eight. Tri-State fell in two to FC Elite 18 Elite, a young team with a junior, two sophomores and a freshman on the roster.
“Greatness does not know age!” coach Brett Damrow exclaimed.
Saturday was a massive day for the Midwest. Six of the eight quarterfinalists hail from the country’s midsection. Texas, however, is not represented. The Lone Star State, which has produced bullies over the years, got four teams into the Challenge phase, but none advanced to the Gold bracket.
Southern California will be represented by Coast in the quarterfinals, but the region’s very strong Friday showing was not duplicated on Saturday. After going 16-5 during the tournament’s opening day, the seven SCVA teams struggled to a 2-12 mark today. Five of the seven still managed to advance out of pool play, but only Coast survived. The San Diego squad reached the quarters by downing its biggest rival, WAVE 18 Kevin.
The conclusion of pool play Saturday morning produced several plot twists from where this drama appeared to be going on Friday. Adversity G18 Adidas Purple, the club’s second team; won twice, including a sweep of national No. 4 Colorado Juniors 18Kevin, to sneak into the Challenge phase at 3-2. Dallas Skyline 18 Royal won a must-win match versus Metro 18 Travel to advance from its pool. Mizuno Northern Lights 181, Circle City and SA Juniors 18 Adidas also got into the Challenge bracket by virtue of final-match do-or-die wins.
Union 18-UA, from Louisville, is the lone At-Large big recipient still in contention. Craig Bossmeyer’s team is 6-0 and has been extended to three sets just twice.
“We’re really just clicking and coming together when it matters,” he said. “We as coaches put a game plan together and the girls are executing well, whether that’s on blocking, defense, or something just as simple as serving. That’s huge when you’re matching up with this level of competition. This is high-level volleyball out here and what these girls are all about, so we’re having fun but know there’s an objective at the end and that’s what we’re aiming for.”
Premier Nebraska 18 Gold is still standing. Shannon Smolinski’s, which is not at full strength due to injury, team swept MAVSKC 18-1 to win Pool 4, then eliminated A5, the No. 2 overall seed, in a Challenge match.
“Super proud of this group and what they have overcome this season!” Smolinski exclaimed. “It was another solid day for our serve and pass. Norah Sis was incredible offensively for us and Phyona Schrader and Lindsay Krause did a phenomenal job being our battery. The team as a whole is just playing at a really high level and all of our girls are stepping up in big moments.”
Saturday was a tough day for the national rankings, as No. 1 TAV and seven other teams in the top 11, were eliminated from medal contention.
Mintonette m. 81 is one team still alive and kicking. The hometown team took advantage of Tstreet 18-Kasia’s “struggles” – two 15-13 losses, to HJV 18 Elite and FC Elite, to win its pool. Audrey Flaugh’s team then instigated a massive rally in Game 1 of the Challenge match with Dallas Skyline to sweep to the quarters.
“With our RS, Liv Kennedy, out with injury, Syd Taylor (our bro) has moved to the left side and Addie Evans moved to libero,” Flaugh said. “Evans was consistent and played really well all day. Logan Flaugh (setter) was steady and calm and pin hitters Riley Kindall and London Davis stayed aggressive and were clutch in tight situations.”
The Gold bracket matches get started at 8 a.m. Columbus time in Sunday. In addition to AZ Storm/Elevation, Premier Nebraska faces FC Elite, Adversity, which is probably the favorite now, squares off against m.81 and Coast battles Union.
TAV is out. Of the eight remaining, any team can win. It’s going to be a great Sunday for volleyball!
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