The Club V 18 Ren team from Utah has watched its fortunes turn around thus far this season.
Club V finished sixth in the Kansas City and seventh at the Southern California qualifiers before turning in its best showing with a second-place finish at Crossroads in Denver.
“We’ve been right there all year,” Club V coach Reed Carlson said. “We’ve had a pretty good season so far. We had a slow start in Kansas City and then finished strong. We blew leads to get into the gold pool in SoCal and that still haunts us. The mistakes we made in the previous two qualifiers were eliminated at Crossroads and we played better. We’re coming along pretty nicely. Before, we had a few unfortunate strings of not being able to put the ball away with leads at the end of sets.”
Key for Club V in Denver was the play of middles Whitney McEwan (who is headed to BYU) and Corinne Larsen, and outsides Tasia Farmer and Maddie Robinson.
“Tasia and Maddie are big-time gamers who played really well at the same time,” Carlson said.
Carlson pointed out teams usually focus their attention on McEwan.
“They expect her to be there with how high she jumps, her fast arm and big block. They expect her to compete high every match. The good thing for us is Corinne brought it up to another level at Crossroads. Her block was very good. She was touching almost everything and had a lot of block kills. We relied on her a lot more and she got more kills. It was fun to see her become an offensive threat.”
Setter Bri Mortensen did well after Carlson switched to a 5-1 setup during the tournament.
“Our other setter is a six-rotation opposite,” Carlson explained. “We had a better rhythm staying with the same setter. Lace was our other setter and with her being a full-time hitter that let Bri run the whole show. We did that the last three matches and found a good rhythm and that allowed the hitters to stay in a better rhythm without switching tempos. We switched to a 5-1 in crunch time and worked better for us.”
Libero Abbi Vincent also played well, particularly on the last day.
“She played amazing. She was covering the whole court and taking care of business,” Carlson said.
Club V earlier went 7-2 at the Triple Crown extravaganza in Salt Lake City.
“We beat some really great teams there and felt good,” Carlson said. “We blew some third sets at SoCal and that stopped us. We were more aggressive with our offense and defense in Denver and that was the difference-maker. The game plan worked and we never stepped down from being aggressive.”
Robinson will join McEwan at BYU. Farmer, a junior, is committed to San Diego State. Larsen is headed to Utah State, while Mortensen, Vincent and Elena Hansen all are headed to Utah Valley. Seleisa Elisaia is headed to Cal State Bakersfield, while Megan Sintay is looking into Dixie State and Kenadee Christensen, a junior, is committed to Salt Lake Community College.
Healthy and loving it: For the NORCO 18 Black team, under the direction of sport coaching great Jim Stone, health most certainly has played a role in the team’s recent upward motion.
After taking fourth in Kansas City and fifth in Nashville, NORCO was runner up at the Colorado Crossroads qualifier in Denver in 18 Open. Added to that, Norco won two recent Rocky Mountain region mixed age-group tournaments.
“Crossroads is the first tournament where we’ve been healthy,” said Stone. “Both our middle blockers have had significant injuries for the first part of the season. Performance-wise, our strength was we did not depend on one player for offensive production.”
Stone added setter Chelsey Lockey is getting all her attackers involved in the action.
“Our offense was pretty balanced (in Denver),” he said.
Stone also liked the way middles Anna Marie Dodson and Duquesne Moratzka played in the tournament.
“Both Anna Marie and Duquesne made significant offensive contributions,” he said. “We’re always dependent on our outsides so this is a nice improvement.”
Outside hitters Riley Zuhn, Makenzie Fidelak and Lorrin Poulter continue to impress.
“Riley, Mackenzie and Lorrin were very good and very consistent,” said Stone.
Stone is looking forward to more healthy-focused tournaments.
“As we get healthy, we are getting better,” he said. “My hope is we continue to improve in the upcoming weeks.”
First time’s the charm: The MAVS 16-1s team from the Kansas City area played in its first national qualifier of the year at Crossroads and did quite well, winning the 16 Open title (defeating Aspire 16 Rox in the final). Before Crossroads, MAVS won the HOA Power League.
“We didn’t drop a set in power league,” MAVS coach Kelley Bugler said. “The first set we lost all season was at Crossroads.”
Overall, Bugler liked what she saw at the Colorado Convention Center.
“Our girls are very competitive and most of the time are very focused, which is pretty unusual for this age group. They are pretty mature and that allows us to do really well. We have a smart setter who gives our hitters the best chance for one-on-one opportunities and the ability to score.”
That setter is Kendra Wait, who Bugler pointed out is only a freshman.
“We also have stellar serve-receive,” she said. “We are in system most of the time because of our serve-receive. “Our passers allow us to run the offense we want, which is very fast.”
Libero Caroline Bien and defensive specialist Annie Rokusek are the team’s primary passers.
Bugler noted the team also benefits from a shared load at the net.
“That’s the beauty of it,” she said. “We had an injury at the beginning of the season and now we have three outsides who rotate each set in the middle. They’ve had to be very versatile all year playing outside and middle. If you look at the stats, our attempts are even across the board.”
Up front, Samantha Schnitta and Lindsay Lahr both were strong offensively in Denver. Kim Whetstone came up big in the middle.
“Kim had some huge blocks the changed the pace of a lot of games, especially in our third pool match.”
MAVS will be busy on the qualifier circuit in the upcoming weeks with stops in Chicago, the Show Me qualifier and the Southern California qualifier held in Las Vegas.
“The girls are very focused and have a good work ethic,” Bugler said. “They put in the work. We were a really good team last year. We took second in 15s at nationals. The group we have here that came back plays very consistent volleyball. We’ve minimized our error ratio per set and that’s been a huge contributing factor in our success as well.”
Championship pedigree: Arizona Storm 17 Thunder has been like a magnet this year when it comes to the top podium spot. The team won the MLK Fiesta Classic in 18 Open, won the 17 Elite title at Triple Crown in Utah and followed that up with a win at Crossroads in Denver in 17 Open. Storm downed Colorado Juniors 17 Kevin for the 17 Open title in Denver.
“We were successful at Crossroads for multiple reasons,” Arizona Storm coach Jami Rolfes said. “This team never gave up. They are fighters. We had several matches where we gave up large runs of points in certain rotations. The girls found a way to work together and climb their way out of those situations. They truly are a team and our chemistry is something we rely on heavily.”
Rolfes added the team’s success in Denver was just that, a team effort.
“Multiple players stepped up throughout the tournament,” she said. “Shannon Shields, Amber Stivrins and Nicole Hoff all were consistent. Kate Grimmer came up with several huge kills and blocks when we needed her to. Kylee Stokes did her job blocking balls and stepped up her offensive game running the slide well.
“In the finals and semifinals, Jazmyn Wheeler and Sedona Sherman both stepped up big-time. Jazmyn came in off the sidelines and did a fantastic job both offensively on the outside and in the back row defensively. Sedona had a fantastic semifinal and final. Her blocking game was on point and she was an offensive weapon in the middle.”
Rolfes calls Shields “an unbelievable setter.”
“She has the ability to see the block and get her hitters in one-on-one situations,” she said. “Not only that, Shannon has stepped up her blocking and defensive game. She’s a very dynamic setter, she’s a leader, she’s knowledgeable and really fun to watch.”
Stivrins, Rolfes points out, has made major strides in her game in a year’s time.
“Amber is a very consistent and confident player,” she said. “She has come up huge offensively in several big matches. She works extremely hard in the gym and it shows on the court. She listens to the game plan and her execution has been on point thus far this season. She is a vocal leader and is very well respected by her teammates.”
Storm also has been bolstered by the play of libero Nicole Hoff.
“Nicole is fantastic,” said Rolfes. “Her ability to read and keep rallies alive is amazing. I think her big plays really energize this team. She gives our hitters confidence because she’s always got their backs covering for them. She’s a special kid and a really fun player to watch.”
Rolfes is looking forward to what the remainder of the season brings.
“This season has been so much fun,” she said. “I fell privileged to get to coach such a special group of athletes. They have such a strong bond and I think their chemistry has played a huge part in their success. They all truly like each other and work hard in the practice gym pushing each other to become better players. I don’t know if I can say they’ve exceeded my expectations because I know what these girls are capable of doing.
“It’s been awesome to be a part of a group that continues to step up their game and play consistently well when they are put to the challenge. We still have a lot of work to do and we will continue to work hard in the gym as we prepare for the rest of the season.”
Hometown happiness: Colorado Juniors 17 Kevin went from a 21st-place finish in the 17 Elite Division at Triple Crown in Utah to a second-place showing at the Crossroads qualifier in Denver in 17 Open. Colorado Juniors lost to Arizona Storm in the finale.
In Rocky Mountain region power tournaments, Colorado Juniors had finishes of second, fifth, seventh and third in the four events playing up at 18s.
“We played extremely well in Denver,” coach Kevin Marquis said. “We have been working on speeding up our offensive system. Honestly, I didn’t think we would be ready this early in the season to run a faster tempo, but everything came together for us.”
Marquis was thrilled with the progress his team made at the service line.
“I believe we are one of the best serving teams in the 17 Open division,” he said.
Marquis noted setter McKenna Sciacca, middle Claudia Dillon and libero Gianna Bartalo all stepped up and played better as the tournament progressed.
“I told the team back in November that Crossroads could be ugly for us because of the tempo we are trying to play at,” he said. “They proved me wrong. I couldn’t be more proud of this team. They are a bunch of gamers who love to compete.”