VolleyballMag.com continues with its “Hunch” rankings of the top club volleyball teams in the nation.
To understand why these rankings are based largely on hunches, we invite you to peruse our preamble to the 18s rankings, which we published last Tuesday. You can find them here: https://volleyballmag.com/february-2021-18s-rankings/. The 17s hunch rankings, published last Thursday, can be found here: https://volleyballmag.com/february-2021-17s-rankings/
Today, we present the 16s and, again, it’s just a top 25. Beware that as the players get younger and younger, our knowledge base begins to diminish exponentially. Though we haven’t seen these teams, as 15s last year or yet as 16s this year, the coaches of these teams have done an exceptional job through our forms of bringing them to life. As a consequence, I have a much better handle on who they are than I expected to have.
In preparing the 16s, I do want to thank the coaches of the teams in this age group immensely. Your assistance in diligently completing our forms (a big ask, I know!) and in providing input into the rankings draft I circulated was invaluable to shaping the top 25. Without you, I would have been in deep trouble!
By the way, if you are a club coach (girls,15s-18s) and have yet to complete our form, whether you are top 25 or not, here’s the link to introduce your team to me: https://volleyballmag.wufoo.com/forms/mjjkdip02yxd7r/
The form will help as I read about or see the good things you do on the court and give me ideas for the Daily Dots, which are nuggets and notions that run five days a week.
Finally, while all the content at VolleyballMag.com is and will remain free to all, I am urging you to contribute what you can towards a Sustaining Membership to our site. It’s THE ONLY WAY I can get paid to do this job for you and THE ONLY WAY I can stay on providing the best national coverage of the club and high school scenes beyond March.
Here is the link to sustain all the exciting things we are doing here at VolleyballMag.com: https://volleyballmag.com/sustaining-membership/
Don’t give if you cannot! I myself have lost two jobs during the pandemic and know that budgets are stretched thin. But if you can, please do so.
Thanks and, without further ado…
March 16s Hunch National Rankings
1. KC Power 16-1 (Kansas) — AES shows KC Power at 19-0 on the season in the early going. Mike Stowell’s team swept nine opponents to win Omaha over President’s Day Weekend and it is undefeated in one of the toughest 16s power leagues in the country so far. That’s good enough for us to proclaim Power No. 1 nationally in our first rankings. The team returned everyone from last year’s squad that we started at No. 6. That includes pins Reagan Fox and Ava Testrake, libero Izzy Day, MB Sawyer Thomsen and 6-2 setter Ella Swindle, arguably the best assister in the country in this class. The team also improved with the addition of big blocking MB/RS Taylor Russell. “This team is one to watch for in medal contention at any tournament they play,” Stowell said.
2. Legacy Adidas 16-1 (Michigan) — A lot of coaches think that Legacy is the No. 1 team nationally in this age division. The team was 33-0 and had won the JVA Rock & Rumble, Central Zones, Triple Crown and the Sunshine Qualifier in 15 Open last year before the season shutdown. With everybody back, the team has started off strong again, winning the JVA Rust Buster and Central Zones with 7-0 marks before losing its only match of the year, to 1st Alliance 16 Silver, in the finals of President’s Day in St. Louis. The name everyone knows on Ricky Cottrill’s roster is 6-1 OH Harper Murray, who is considered by many the top recruit in the 2023 class. But this team has many more awesome talents on it, including 6-1 setter Erin Kline, 6-4 OH Nina Horning, 5-7 libero Kaitlyn Hoffman, 6-0 RS Becca Apsey, 6-2 MB Abby Reck and skywalking 6-3 MB Laurece Abraham. “An extremely talented team with a ton of chemistry, this team is impressive,” Cottrill noted.
3. WAVE 16 Alfee (California) — Working for PrepVolleyball.com last year, I ranked WAVE No. 1 among the 15s last year to start the 2020 season only to see the team struggle at Triple Crown. The team recovered to go undefeated in full region matches but the season shut down before it could show the nation its true potential. Nine players return on a very tall, very physical team, led by 6-3 OH Julia Blyashov, one of the nation’s elite players; 6-2 MB Eva Rohrbach, 6-4 MB Cayla Payne and 6-4 RS Auburn Tomkinson,one of four newcomers. Kat Lutz is the team’s libero and 5-11 Nikki Quinn will do the setting. “This team keeps getting bigger and stronger in every position,” said a club representative. “Not only are they all just great volleyball players, but they work really hard and are improving every day.”
4. 1st Alliance 16 Silver (Illinois) — One of the hottest 16s teams in the country right now, 1st Alliance is 30-1 in 2021 and the only team to have defeated Legacy Adidas 16-1. Trisha Samolinski’s team won the Fort Wayne MLK tournament and President’s Day in St. Louis. Seven out of nine return, including OH Kennedy Wagner, S/RS Jordan Heatherly and libero Gigi Navarette, Two newcomers to watch are 5-11 OH Jessica Horwath, who adds balance to a good lineup; and defender Vanessa Del Real, who is fast and has consistent control. “With the new players added to our experienced and competitive group, I feel we will continue to improve and move higher in the rankings as the season progresses,” Samolinski said.
5. A5 16-Gabe (Georgia) — Head coach Gabe Aramian likes the team he has crafted. It’s not the most physical group he’s had, but they boast a very high volleyball I.Q. and are skilled in the backcourt, at setter and on the pins. Eleven players are back and blend with newcomers Payton Bryan (6-2 outside from Tribe in South Florida) and Jaidyn Garcia (6-0 RS) to give the team options at every position. Key players to watch, besides the aforementioned newcomers, are 6-0 S Katie Boney, 5-8 S Taylor Pecht, 5-10 OH Mary Neal, 5-10 RS Sydney Bray, 6-2 MB Logan Carr, 6-1 MB Iyanna Garvin and defenders Arya Jue and Elizabeth Cheney.
6. Adidas KiVA 16 Red (Kentucky) — Head coach Melissa Starck-Bean has a tall team with overwhelming physicality in 16 Red. They are extremely gifted athletically and could be one of the best KiVA 16s teams in the club’s storied history. Two 6-4 studs, OH Sydney Helmers and MB Nya Bunton, are cornerstone players for the squad, which also boasts 6-5 middle Gabrielle Gerry, 6-0 S Whitney Woodrow and a trio of athletic defenders, Mia Maloney, Isabelle George and Elle Jackson. Rival coaches share that ball control is the one thing that could hold this talented group back, which is shocking because KiVA has always been known for its defense. “I think you will see this team improve with each tournament,” Starck-Bean said. “They have gained height, strength and resiliency over the past years.”
7. Tstreet 16-Curtis (California) — Tstreet won the 14 Open national championship two seasons ago and was ranked second in the pre-season last year as 15s with its entire roster back. The entire team from last season returns yet again for 2021 and, under the tutelage of coach Curtis Yoder, the team currently sits 10-1 in the Premier Volleyball League. We have not heard from Yoder this year, so we are forced to assume that last year’s key contributors also are this year’s impact players. That means Julia Waugh, Paige Buzzerio and Maia Niemen on the pins, Lily Dwinell and Mady Smith in the middle, Koko Kirsch dominating the back court and 6-2 Clara Stowell impacting both as a setter and as a right side disruptor.
8. Alamo 16 Premier (Texas) — Alamo’s 15s in 2020 were most impressive. They won Tour of Texas and placed second at the Triple N.I.T. This year’s team is solid but depth has been impacted when two players quit before Christmas. Nonetheless, the team has started 22-1 in 2021, its lone loss last weekend to Alamo 17 Premier. Key players for head coach Phil Jackson are 6-2 MB/RS Hannah Whittingstall, 6-1 S/RS Taylor Anderson, 6-2 OH/MB Nayeli Gonzalez, 5-11 OH Emma Halstead and libero Alyssa Manitzas. The team got more versatile with the addition of outsides Katie Hill and Emma Wegleitner. “We have a core of talented kids,” said Jackson. “The biggest studs on this team are all interchangeable. That allows me to matchup with a lot of different strengths of our opponents. We feel as long as we are focusing on our effort and our process the results will take care of themselves.”
9. Drive Nation 16 Red (Texas) — Drive Nation recently lost standout hitter Lauren Ingram to a knee injury, but this is a loaded, deep team filled with physicality and will adjust. “We have all the pieces to be a true contender down the stretch,” noted coach Jason Nicholson. Leah Ford, a 6-3 MB, 5-11 MB Alexa Grabow, 5-9 OH Lauryn Hill, 6-0 RS Samantha Hoppes, 5-8 S Miller McDonald and 5-8 libero Savannah Ivie are among those to watch. Of the newcomers, 6-4 middle Reece Robins has the greatest potential to make an impact as the season goes along.
10. Coast 16-1 (California) — Coach Ozhan Bahrambeygui has high expectations for the 16s, who haven’t yet solved WAVE or Tstreet, but are otherwise unbeaten in the Premier Volleyball League. Ten out of 12 off of last year’s 15s return, including physical middle Brooklynn Briscoe, outside Cate Schnell and Noemie Glover, the daughter of NFLer LaRoi Glover. Ozh calls Noemie “maybe the best left-handed opposite prospect in the country.” Newcomer Sydney Bold, a 5-7 libero, is being hailed as the best sophomore libero in Southern California. Another newcomer, 6-2 Jillian Neal, adds needed height.
11. Aspire 16 UA-Premier (Arizona) — When healthy, few teams are better than Aspire. Sharon Vanis’ team boasts five supreme standouts: setter Georgia Lee, pins Kierstyn Barton, Avery Burks and Neomi Beach and middle Ella Lomigora. Kate Phillips, a 6-1 middle who played on the 16s a year ago, is part of a solid supporting cast. The issue with this team, however, is that it isn’t deep in the hitter department. Maintaining health through the end of the season will be key to this team’s effort to medal in Las Vegas come July.
12. Dynasty 16 Black (Kansas) — Dynasty on 15 Open at Crossroads a year ago to foreshadow just how good that team could be. With eight returning, the Kansas City club wants to run it back. “This team has a chance to compete for a national championship,” said coach Brian Tate. “We have the physical ability and the ball control to compete with anyone. We have great middles and a setter who can deliver the ball to our hitters from anywhere.” Ashley Mullen, a 5-11 lefty, runs the show from her setter position. She’ll feed middles Calissa Minatee, Brooklyn Young and Cy Rae Campbell, a speedster playing a year up. Rylee Unruh, Adelyn Bybee and physical newcomer Chapel Dobbs should be very good terminating options on the pins. Heidi Devers, from high school powerhouse St. James Academy known for its defense, holds down the libero position.
13. Premier Nebraska 16 Gold (Nebraska) — Nine of 10 return from last year’s 15 Gold squad, which beat the likes of Alamo, Coast and Drive Nation before the pandemic ended the 2020 season. Key players include 6-2 RS Grace Heaney, 5-8 OH Stella Adeyemi, 6-1 MB/RS Alanna Bankston and 5-11 MB/RS Lily Snodgrass, a newcomer who gives the team a whole other dimension at the net. “What’s exciting is this team has a lot of depth and versatility,” said head coach Elise Fulcher. “There are multiple girls who can play multiple positions in the front row, as well as multiple girls who can play different positions in the back court. Another bonus is all 10 players played and contributed to their varsity teams in a tough Nebraska volleyball high school scene.”
14. Nebraska Elite 16-Top Gun (Nebraska) — Head coach Tony Carrow crows that some of the nation’s best athletes are on his Top Gun team. The team is good now – it won the January Thaw and went 8-1, losing only to Premier Nebraska 16 Gold, in Omaha over President’s Day Weekend – but is training hard to compete at the highest level. Among the players to watch are 6-1 OH Destiny Ndam-Simpson, 6-0 S Morgan Burke, 6-0 MB Kensington TeKrony and 5-6 libero Olivia Mauch. Seven on the team’s 10-player roster return, adding chemistry and continuity to a talented roster. “This will be a big year for those individuals to grow and stand out competitively,” Carrow said.
15. Revolution 16 Premier (Arizona) — Head coach Marc Swindle knows he has two of the best hitters nationally in this division in 6-3 sophomore Kendal Murphy and 5-8 freshman Evan Hendrix (“pound for pound the best volleyball player I have seen since Angie Pressey), but the key to his team is the emergence of 6-3 middle GG Greenlee, who touches 10-0 and was become unstoppable on attack. Others to watch include libero Bella Anderson and fast setter Lexi Yoza.
16. Hive 16 Gold (Utah) — There was a ton of excitement surrounding Hive as a 15-year-old team last year, which made sense given that the team had two of the nation’s premier freshmen in 6-5 MB Maggie Mendelson and 6-0 OH Jordyn Harvey. Hive backed it up, too, going 9-1, with two wins over Alamo and wins over Northern Lights, Topeka Impact and Premier Nebraska to qualify third in 15 Open at Crossroads. Mendelson and Harvey are among 10 players returning for head coach Sarah Chism, who said, “We are hoping to prove we are a top 10 16U team with a balanced offensive attack, athletic high flyers and aggressive defenders.” Other key returnees to watch include OH Vani Key, 6-3 eighth grade middle Taylor Harvey and 5-10 setter Evalyn Chism. The team has two impact newcomers in pin Ioana Asiata and setter Havanah Hoeft, which will allow the team to run a 6-2 offense and run more offensive weapons out onto the floor.
17. Infinity 16 Adidas (Mississippi) — Infinity announced itself with authority over President’s Day Weekend in St. Louis when the club upended both Rockwood Thunder 16 Elite and Circle City 16 Purple in straight sets on its way to a 7-1 record and a tie for fifth in 16 Open. Jenny Hazelwood’s squad, which fell only to Adidas KiVA 16 Red, is powered by 6-2 OH Lakin Laurendine and 5-11 S/RS Allie Hazelwood. Others to watch include libero Sunni Sheppard, one of the nation’s elite liberos; 6-2 OH Aniya Madkin and 6-0 RS Lexie Pendleton. Two new middles, 6-2 Hannah Towery and 6-1 Maggie Sewell, help make this a complete team.
18. Circle City 16 Purple (Indiana) — Circle City did well as a 15-year-old team, losing only 2-3 matches before the season was called. With everyone back and no newcomers, coach Scott McQueen expects similar results for this team in 2021. Led by Molly Urban, Circle is dynamic defensively. It also boasts Maci Hinshaw, who is not only an elite setter, but also an outstanding defensive setter. The offense can come from a number of options, including 6-1 outside Quinci Thomas and 6-1 middle Emily Waddell.
19. Texas Advantage 16 Black (Texas) — TAV is one of the best teams in Texas, to be sure. In the past, that would automatically put the team in the national top 10. 16 Black, however, will have to earn it, as this isn’t an “airport team,” one of those teams who intimidate walking off the plane. OHs Kyndal Stowers and Emily Simmons, liberos Zoe Winford and McKenna Gildon and middle Hannah Pfiffner are key contributors for head coach Jon Nasgowitz. The three newcomers are OH Ella Busey, who played on TAV Blue a year ago; and two, MB Kate Hansen and RS Stephanie Gutierrez, who came back to TAV after a year away.
20. Munciana 16 Ninjas (Indiana) — Randy Gardner is a scrappy coach, so it’s no surprise that he usually has scrappy teams. The Ninjas are no different. They are a blue-collar defensive team that will frustrate more physical opponents into mistakes, like KiVA 16 Red, a team they beat at the MLK event in Knoxville earlier in the season, their first win over KiVA since they were 12s. Key players include stud libero Ramsey Gary, dynamic but undersized outside Sydney Robinson and 6-0 sophomore attacker Avery Hobson, a newcomer with a big arm who gives the team firepower.
21. Woodlands Revolution 16 Premier (Texas) — Woodlands Revolution has wins over Houston Skyline 16 Royal and Houston Juniors 16 Elite as part of a 16-1 start to 2021. The team was wins in the FAST warmup and the Houston Shootout. Coach Ray Hedden believes he has a top 10 national team. “We have a phenomenal defense, well-rounded offense and great team chemistry,” he said. Eight from last season’s nationally-ranked 15s return, including superb libero Molly Tuozzo, 6-2 S/RS Claire Dewine and a trio of impact frontcourt standouts, 6-2 outside Brooke Bentke, 5-10 outside Gracie Campbell and 6-1 MB Alex Bull. There are four newcomers and all have the potential to impact the team’s fortunes. Keep a particular eye on 6-1 Evyn Snook, who had a high volleyball I.Q. and can play across the net.
22. Houston Skyline 16 Royal (Texas) — Houston Skyline was No. 1 in its region and claimed a top five finish at the Sunshine Qualifier as 15s before COVID put an end to last season. Coached by Todd Kolkhorst, the team is off to a 12-1 record in 2021, with its only loss to Woodlands Revolution 16 Premier. Nine return from last year’s team, including 5-10 S/OH Margot Manning and 6-2 OH/MB Ava Harrington. Courtney O’Brien, a 5-11 pin who played up a year ago, is one of three newcomers and will be a six-rotation asset. Kolkhorst said that the team’s versatile attackers, quality depth in all positions and the presence of Manning, one of the top setters in this class, should allow Houston Skyline to compete well nationally.
23. Sunshine 16 Los Angeles (California) — Head coach Heather Bown has big plans for this new team, which is made up of athletes who played outside of the Sunshine family a year ago. “I believe this team will have the ability to compete and accomplish some pretty amazing things,” she said. We agree. Sunshine 16 LA boasts one of the nation’s top young attackers in 6-2 Torrey Stafford, a freaky athlete. They have great size and skill with the likes of middle Nicole Lankton, Dior Charles, Grace Thrower and Avery Jones. Setter Sydney Floyd has great hands and the team has not one but two gritty liberos, Carly Greskovics and Saylor Little. This team runs 12 deep and has college coaches watching online calling them “mini-Texas!” Both WAVE and Tstreet are ranked ahead of Sunshine in these rankings, but this is the team with the potential to improve the fastest. There’s no telling what the ceiling might be.
24. Mizuno Northern Lights 16-1 (Minnesota) — Northern Lights 15-1 was off to a strong start to 2020 before coronavirus ended its season. Nine return from that team and the additions make them stronger in the middle and bigger on the pins. With Adam Beamer coaching them, they will improve greatly and be in the medal mix come national championship season. The highest profile players on the roster are freshmen Olivia Swenson and Stella Swenson. Sisters of Golden Gopher great Samantha Seliger-Swenson, Olivia is a 6-3 strong-armed outside while Stella is a physical 6-2 setter with unlimited potential. The team also boasts 6-4 OH Sydney Schnichels, defenders Sydney Janes and Rylee Nelson and front courters Arianna Blohm, Madeline Knutson, Kaitlyn Sellner and Annika Veurink.
25. High Tide 16 Elite (Florida) — High Tide is a small club located in Stuart with one big-time team. Coached by Nicole Walch, High Tide’s 16s is the best team in a Florida Region that has A TON of talent in the ’23 class and has started off hot with a win at the JJVA Tropical Ice Open in Jacksonville. Eight from last year’s nationally-ranked 15s return, including 6-4 OH Madison Gravlee, 6-0 OH Zoe Zudans, 6-2 RS Lindsay Walch, 6-0 MB Sophia Buller and 5-8 libero Marley Navaretta. Newcomer Lindsey Scammell, a 6-0 RS, adds a great block and lots of energy.