The Yorktowne 17 Blue team from Pennsylvania has been hard at work in preparing for the big stage.
Yorktowne recently won the Boys Atlantic Northeastern bid tournament in Harrisburg, Pa., after taking fourth at the Rochester Can-Am qualifier and 19th at the SCVA Junior Boys Invite.
“I thought our passing and serving game was on point all weekend,” Yorktowne’s Josh Brenneman said. “With the passing our setter was getting he was able to run our system as fast as we wanted to on the pin and with great placement of all the sets.
“This team played in various 18s events as well as college club and men’s open events to prepare for the BANE. They also get to compete at practices against our 18 Blue team, which finished fifth in California and third in Chicago.”
Brenneman recommends folks in the sport remember the name Jacob Pasteur.
“This is his first year with our program and he’s only 15 years old,” Brenneman said. “Jacob turns 16 in June and has been a great contributor to this team’s success. He has a fast release with a huge vertical and to go along with it, a live, fast arm swing.”
Mason Nissley was lauded by Brenneman for his leadership skills, while Braden Richard was key in Harrisburg “with his ability to read, block and control our opponents’ outside hitters,” said Brenneman.
At the controls of the offense was setter Seth Fine.
“Seth did a great job of distributing the ball and getting the key one-on-one matchups for our hitters to be suspect,” said Brenneman. “He did a great job seeing the entire game this weekend and knew who to set and when to set them.”
Brenneman added the BANE event marked the first time in a while where the team from York, Pa., was at full strength and healthy.
“In the previous two qualifiers, we had players miss due to the weather, because we hit a blizzard in Rochester and a snowstorm that shout the East Coast down during the California event,” he said. “The guys went into their last qualifier and last chance to get a bid with a lot of pressure on their shoulders. However, they played relaxed and in control all weekend.
“I thought that was pretty amazing that they played some of their best ball all year under those conditions. It’s a great day in volleyball when you get to play and beat three great opponents such as Niagara, Pace Bootlegger and Academy.”
Gateway to success: Pipeline 18 Nike has been an active participant on the medal stand so far this season.
Pipeline, from the Chicago suburbs, took third in the gold bracket in 18 Open at the Boys Winter Volleyball Championships in Chicago and then won the silver-division title at the Florida Fest in Jacksonville before taking second in gold at the Dennis Lafata Gateway Classic bid tournament in St. Louis.
“Our team has great resilience,” said Pipeline coach Dominic Spadavecchio. “They tend to come out a little slow, but really have a competitive edge not to lose. We have had a lot of three-set matches and have fought really hard to pull some of those matches out. I think that has given us a little bit of an ‘X’ factor that not all teams may have.
“While we may not have the biggest or best player out there in the nation, we do have a group of guys that really enjoy playing with each other and a great atmosphere. I have never had one player complain about playing time. Many of them have played multiple positions during matches and have come through when we have needed it.”
The trio of Michael O’Toole, Jacob Peterson and Nick Martinski have been three bright spots for Pipeline.
“Mike has been our rock,” Spadavecchio said. “He’s been the go-to guy when we need to side out. His game has really evolved over the last two years. Mike’s all-around game is played at a very high level. I would expect him to put up some big numbers here in the coming high-school season.
“Jacob is our 6-5 lefty setter. He really makes our passers look good when he is able to set some of the tight passes and swing over on two. His consistency has continued to improve over the season and he also has a terrific serve that other teams have problems with.
“Nick is a guy our guys look up to. He has been a great offensive threat for us. He is headed to Ball State next year and I could see him potentially playing multiple positions at the next level.”
Spadavecchio said this year’s team already has taken major steps forward.
“We have really grown,” he said. “While there have been some moments that I know we were not playing up to our potential, when the lights come on, the guys are ready to play. They really thrive in the big moment as you can see by our results in the qualifiers.
“As I stated prior, I am really proud of the resiliency this team shows. A couple matches we came out slow and lost set one by a large margin only to rally in sets two and three and win the match with ease. I’m very excited to see how they all do with their respective high-school seasons and get back into the gym this summer to get ready for nationals. I am expecting big things from this group this summer and hopefully we can bring the same intensity to nationals that we ended with in St. Louis.”
Bounce back: Chicago Bounce 16 Red had a noteworthy performance, finishing third at the recent Boys Bid Classic in St. Louis.
Bounce went 3-0 on the first day, including a win over top-seeded Hitmen, and also went 3-0 on the second day before running into Boriquen out of Puerto Rico in the semifinals where they lost in two.
“It was a major wakeup call, but the boys really worked hard going into St. Louis,” said Bounce director Blake Orlov. “We also were severely under-seeded and felt disrespected going into St. Louis. There was a huge chip on our shoulder and our practices really amped up and the intensity was at a whole different level. We had a great performance.”
Bounce went 3-0 at the bid tournament in Chicago, but struggled on the second day. It also played in the first two local Palos Points Series events in the 18s divisions, moving up to the B division and then made the A bracket several times at 16s there.
Bounce is led by 6-7 right side Peter Brown, along with 6-3 outside Gavin Meng, outside Colin Heath and setter Kyle Moy.
“Peter is a beast,” said Orlov. “He blocks well, hits crazy angle shots and hits the ball at such a high point it’s hard to block him. He also is a much-improved defender.”
“Gavin’s athleticism is at another level. Just when you think he can’t jump any higher, he keeps going. He has incredible hitting power and his jumping ability makes him an incredibly effective blocker. He also has a nasty jump serve.
“From 14-16, Colin is one of the most improved players we have. He is a great passer, a crafty hitter and works incredibly hard to get better by the day. Kyle Moy is the guy who runs the show. He is our guy. He makes our hitters better. He played varsity as a freshman in high school which really helped him. He’s a good devision-maker, a hard worker and a leader.”
Orlov labels Jairon Hsieh a top-notch libero.
“He has unbelievable court vision and covers the court well. He’s a defensive machine.”
Josh Rohn, Jack Sakanish and Timmy Lillig also doing their parts.
“Our guys want to play all the time,” said Orlov. “Their chemistry can’t be overlooked. Most of these guys have played together for three years. We have guys at all attacking positions that can put a ball away. In St. Louis, they fought back a few times which didn’t happen at McCormick Place. They took their mental toughness up a notch.”
Hitmen not satisfied: The Hitmen 16 Elite team tied for third in the St. Louis bid tournament after being seeded first.
“To be honest, while third place is perhaps an accomplishment on some teams, if you ask anyone on our team they will tell you we should have done better,” Hitmen club director Mike Liedtke said.
“We came in seeded first in the tournament for a reason and in my opinion we didn’t play to our potential. Having said that, I believe you learn more from losing than you do from winning and hopefully the boys realize you have to bring your best game in every play and put in the work because there are a lot of good teams out there that can win.”
Liedtke pointed out Hitmen held wins in the local Palos Points Series against Uno (first in St. Louis) and Bounce (which also tied for third in St. Louis).
“We lost to both of them in St. Louis and had beat them both twice before in the Palos Points Series which we won,” he said. “Perhaps the boys thought that it would be an easy win as per the past, but it gave us a wakeup call to continue to work hard and come back stronger for nationals.”
Hitmen also finished second at McCormick Place in Chicago, fifth in California and won the biggest Midwest tournament series (Palos Point Series), which is held over four weekends.
“The positives that came out of St. Louis were that the serve-receive and offense were pretty good,” said Liedtke. “I saw good development from our setter Andrew Gawrisch, who had a very good tournament. The thing that impresses me the most with my guys is that they aren’t becoming complacent. While some teams would be very happy with a third-place finish, we know we can do better and look to work even harder to show that at nationals.”
Gawrisch won best setter at the Palos Point Series “and continues to push himself and his teammates as a captain on the court,” said Liedtke. “His decision-making wasn’t the greatest at the beginning of the season and while it still has room to grow, it has greatly improved in that regard throughout the club season.”
Liedtke added outside hitter Nicco Cavalcante has developed into a key player of this teams and terms him a model of consistency, while outside Evan Markworth is a freshman that plays at the 16s level who stepped up when Cavalcante went down with a fractured ankle.
“We would not have won the Palos Points Series without his contributions when filling in,”Liedtke said. “Even when Nicco came back in the rotation, Evan worked to do whatever he could do to help the team and has become a key serving specialist that has gotten the team key points in many games.”
Middle blocker Mike Dziewior also is drawing rare reviews.
“Mike is one of the hardest workers on the team and it has paid off,” said Liedtke. “At the beginning of the year it was his quickness on the block that allowed him to make 16 Elite but his offense was a work in progress. He made great progress in that regard and had some big plays on offense during the St. Louis tournament.”
Sixes are wild: HP St. Louis B17 Royal posted identical 6-1 marks at the Boys Winter Championship in Chicago and took fifth place, and at the Dennis Lafata bid tournament in St. Louis placed third.
In terms of the recent St. Louis event, “The guys did a great job staying poised while not playing their best volleyball at times throughout the tournament,” said HPSTL boys division director Bryan Pieschel. “There were a few matches when we found ourselves down late in sets and remained calm. This allowed for good decisions in tough situations. They continued to work hard both defensively and from behind the end line to create point opportunities. Both areas were key in a lot of our victories.”
Setter Jimmy Mullens had big strides for HP of late, as has middle Clayton Kruse.
“Jimmy has done a nice job learning how hard he needs to work to put our hitters in a good position to score,” said Pieschel. “He still is very new to playing this level of volleyball and has been working hard to improve. He’s learning that location and decision-making has to be a priority for the team to be successful. Clayton has been a constant for us both offensively and defensively as a blocker. He works hard in transition to create point-scoring opportunities out of the middle and does a great job reading as a blocker. We trust him to shut down or slow down opponents’ attackers, making our defensive players’ job a bit easier.”
Outside hitter Ryan Lively has stepped up for HP on the left side, while right side Christian Prayer brings a heavy arm to the table.
“Ryan, too, is very new to this level of volleyball, but works extremely hard in the practice gym and makes the most out of opportunities given to him,” said Pieschel. “When we are able to create one-on-one’s for Christian, he’s shown the ability to score points both out of the front and back row.”
Pieschel said the team talked about what they would need to do this season amidst playing in a talented age bracket across the country.
“We knew coming into the year that we would have to work very hard to be competitive,” he said. “From Day 1, we have talked about the things we have to do well to be successful throughout the season. Out-working our opponents is a focus every time we step on the court.
“We are not the most physical team, which means we have to work hard at minimizing our mistakes, and to create more point-scoring opportunities than our opponents. Mentally preparing to play each point with a high level of focus is an area the boys have shown great improvement in. It is an area we will need to continue to improve upon if we hope to find success this summer. The guys have accepted the challenge and we are excited to see how the rest of the season plays out.”