The attention starts shifting nationwide this time of year to the respective state high school volleyball playoffs that are either taking place or will in the next couple of weeks as the season winds down.
Nothing is more important to the final set of national rankings than what happens in the state races and which schools ultimately prevail with the trophies. For example, it’s impossible to be the top-ranked team in the nation if you’re not even the best one in your own state.
However, only the lucky ones even make it as far as the state playoffs, still holding hopes of ending the season No. 1 in VolleyballMag.com’s final high school national rankings.
In our October national rankings, Benet Academy of Illinois climbed to No. 4, having yet to lose and are now heading toward the postseason with a real chance of ending the season No. 1 should the Redwings finish with an unblemished record.
Yet, those hopes were dealt a severe setback Tuesday night when Benet Academy (34-1) lost to No. 13 Marist (32-2) 25-13, 25-21. Avery Jedry and Camryn Hannah paced Marist by combining for 14 kills and five blocks. Benet defeated Marist earlier, avenging one of Marist’s two losses.
A rubber match is possible, as the sides are the favorites for the Illinois 4A state playoffs, which are November 15-16. Even if Benet Academy should finish first in the division though, the loss to Marist on Tuesday probably all but ended Benet Academy’s shot at the top spot in the final rankings.
Benet Academy needed an undefeated season, since the Redwings don’t own any out-of-state victories. Marist, on the other hand, looks to have entered the discussion and could remain there should it win out. In that case, the blemish would still be Marist’s loss to unranked Carmel of Indiana. But Marist could conceivably own victories over other state title winners, like Nation Ford of South Carolina and No. 14 Skutt Catholic of Nebraska.
Meanwhile, Torrey Pines of California owned the No. 1 spot in the October rankings, but the Falcons certainly have a lot of work ahead before thinking about finishing there. First off, Torrey Pines (31-2) narrowly avoided an upset at the hands of Carlsbad last week. The Falcons rode Megan Kraft’s 18 kills and another 11 each from Trinity Durfee and Maya Satchell to outlast Carlsbad 25-18, 25-19, 17-25, 24-26, 15-13. Torrey Pines’ losses were to La Costa Canyon and Vista Murrieta. Torrey Pines beat La Costa Canyon since and closes out its regular season against Mission Hills and Canyon Crest Academy this week before gearing up for the CIF San Diego Section Open Division playoffs, starting November 2.
There, Torrey Pines could encounter No. 9 Cathedral Catholic (27-4), winner of the Durango Fall Classic. Torrey Pines is 2-0 against Cathedral Catholic this season, as the Dons also have losses to No. 2 Redondo Union (34-3) and No. 8 Marymount (32-3). As for Torrey Pines, which already owns a victory over Redondo Union, if the Falcons can win out by taking sectional and state titles they’ll presumably pick up another victory over Cathedral Catholic and one over Marymount, Redondo Union and/or No. 12 Mater Dei (27-4). It would mean even though having the two losses to unranked teams, Torrey Pines would own a slew of impressive victories and the California state title. That’s worthy of being in the conversation for finishing No. 1.
In fact, any of the Southern California schools in Cathedral Catholic, Redondo Union, Marymount and Mater Dei would conceivably have an argument by winning the California state title in the Open Division, some just stronger than others. Cathedral Catholic would likely have the strongest case should the Dons win out, which would have to include beating Torrey Pines in the sectional playoffs and likely avenging a loss to Redondo Union or Marymount in the state playoffs. Should that happen, Cathedral Catholic’s case could be worthy of being No. 1, as the Dons would also have the Durango Fall Classic title to boast about. Cathedral Catholic ends its regular season Wednesday by playing host to La Jolla.
Should Redondo Union win out, the argument rests around what happened at Durango, when Redondo played without two standouts in senior libero Nalani Iosia and junior setter Kami Miner and finished out of the top 16 after losing to James Logan of California and Leon of Florida. The only other loss for the Sea Hawks is to Torrey Pines. Redondo Union also owns a victory over No. 5 Byron Nelson of Texas. So should Byron Nelson take home the 6A title in Texas and the Sea Hawks the Open Division in California, Redondo Union would own a victory over the best team in Texas as well. Redondo Union could also get a shot at avenging its loss to Torrey Pines in the state playoffs, which start November 13.
Mater Dei and Marymount are longer shots, even by winning out. Either could win both the CIF Southern Section Open Division and state titles and still be topped in the final national rankings. What hurts Mater Dei is losing to No. 3 Padua Franciscan of Ohio in the semifinals of the Louisville Invitational Volleyball Tournament in early September. Padua (24-0) is still undefeated and is building its own case to be No. 1 when all is said and done. If Mater Dei wins out and Padua takes the Division 1 title in Ohio, Mater Dei’s case for No. 1 would be iffy at best. Same goes for Marymount, which finished first at the Nike TOC in Phoenix. Even with that tournament victory added to sectional and state titles, Marymount losing to Mercy of Kentucky in the semifinals of the Durango Fall Classic looms large. If Mercy wins the Kentucky state title, it’s hard for Marymount to go ahead of Mercy. Even if Mercy loses in the Kentucky state tournament, it’s still hard for Marymount go in front of Mercy.
The odd scheduling quirk for the CIF Southern Section teams — Redondo, Marymount and Mater Dei — is they don’t face off until October 30, almost two weeks since any of them played. That means Mater Dei and Marymount only get one match in before likely facing each other on November 2. Mater Dei’s last outing came on October 16. Marymount last played on October 17, the same day Redondo Union closed the regular season.
We mentioned both Padua Franciscan and Byron Nelson. Padua finishes its regular season this week. Padua owns victories over Mater Dei and No. 15 Assumption of Kentucky, plus No. 21 Mercy and No. 30 St. Ursula of Ohio. Padua could run into No. 24 Ursuline Academy or No. 18 Mount Notre Dame in the Division 1 state playoffs for Ohio. The Bruins winning out and owning a lineup of impressive victories like that could very well be enough to lift Padua to No. 1 when it’s done. That’s because Padua can still get a boost should Assumption win the Kentucky state title and Mater Dei the same in California, having defeated both at the LIVT. The Bruins continue the postseason Saturday with a district finals match against Strongsville.
Bryon Nelson (41-2), however, is more of a long shot. The Bobcats not only have the loss to Redondo Union but a setback against unranked Keller, which they play again this week and can avenge. But where Byron Nelson falls short is the only chance it has at a victory over another state champion is with ‘Iolani of Hawaii. And ‘Iolani’s performance at Durango wouldn’t help Byron Nelson even if ‘Iolani wins the Division 1 state title in Hawaii.
Another to watch is No. 6 Mercy of Michigan. The Marlins entered the week at 46-1. Their lone loss came to No. 40 Lowell when senior outside Jess Mruzik was winning a gold medal with the USA Youth National Team in Egypt, but the two sides ran into each other this past weekend. Even with junior outside Jenna Reitsma putting up 19 kills for Lowell, Mercy prevailed in straight sets 30-28, 25-17 to earn revenge. While Mercy will enter the postseason the favorite for the Division 1 title in Michigan, claiming the top spot in the rankings is still a stretch. The Marlins don’t own the out-of-state victories of others in the running and that will be hard to overcome. The district tournament is set for November 4-9, with the state semifinals and finals on November 21-23.
Two teams that were in the mix are seventh-ranked Eagan of Minnesota (32-0) and No. 10 Papillion-La Vista of Nebraska (34-1). We say were, because Papillion-La Vista took its first loss when it fell to Papillion-La Vista South 25-19, 12-25, 25-10 in Metro Conference Tournament play Tuesday night. Sophomore Ava LeGrand helped PLVS pull off the upset, leading the way with 10 kills. Even though Papillion-La Vista is 3-1 now against PLVS, the loss is going to be hard to overcome even if the Monarchs go on to win the Class A state title. Like both Mercy and Eagan, they lack out-of-state victories and thus likely needed to go undefeated to have a shot at being No. 1. The state playoffs are set for November 7-9.
As for Eagan, the school from suburban Minneapolis opens its sectional tournament play this Thursday, but even by winning out it’ll be hard for the Wildcats to make a strong case for the No. 1 spot in the final rankings. Eagan didn’t travel and doesn’t carry the same strength of schedule as others in the running.
New Castle of Indiana, ranked No. 16, is 31-1, but it’s that loss to Assumption that is going to cost the Trojans. New Castle opens the regional part of the state playoffs this Saturday and could earn a rematch with No. 20 Providence on November 2. New Castle swept the first meeting back in September. Still, winning out and earning the Class 4A state title won’t help the Trojans overcome the loss to Assumption.