Right out of the blocks the competition rose for Mizuno Long Beach 18 Rockstar as it chased the 18 Open Elite championship on the final day of the 34th annual SCVA Las Vegas Classic.
Having not dropped a set through the first two days, the tournament favorite was behind for the first time all weekend as Apex1 18 Black grabbed the opening set in the quarterfinals to start Monday’s action. Long Beach would rally back, go on to down Rage 18 Greg in the semis before finishing off A4 Volley 18 Purple Joaco in the final for an unblemished mark and the trophy.
Joining Long Beach in winning their respective divisions Sunday were AZ Sky 17 Gold (17 Open Elite), Rage Westside 16 Michelle (16 Open) and Beach Cities 15 Smack (15 Open). Here’s how it happened.
18 Open Elite
Apex certainly had Long Beach in a precarious spot after Helen McMullin and Mia Tuaniga teamed on a block to hand Apex the opening set 26-24. Apex was hyped and Long Beach was in for a fight for the first time all weekend. How would it respond? Quite well actually. Long Beach had no issues in set two and showed its grit late in set three as Apex was looking to close. A double call put Apex on the brink at 14-13 but Beach reeled off three consecutive points, including Starr Williams sending one down from the left side at 15-14. It was at 14-13 when Apex thought it pulled off the upset. Apex believed it had delivered the match-clinching block and in all the excitement didn’t see or hear the down ref signaling a net violation and the players had to stop celebrating and return to the sideline.
The day ended in similar fashion for Beach, which found itself needing to fend off A4 down the stretch in the decisive set in their championship clash. Once more Beach was down late, with Grace Colburn’s roll shot putting A4 ahead 13-12 despite Long Beach setter Kami Miner making a great save off the net during the rally. Beach answered with three strong plays in a row. It started with Jennifer Bolden scoring from the right side, then Abby Karich going down the line and off the block from the left side. On the final point Karich combined with Marisse Turner for the stuff block and Beach closed out A4 16-25, 25-19, 15-13.
In between, Rage gave Beach a good test but couldn’t get past the eventual champs. Bolden’s shot from the right side finished off Beach’s sweep 29-27, 25-21 and placed Beach in the final.
A4 had found ways to get by in the quarters and semis, pulling out narrow victories over Mizuno M1 181 and Laguna Beach 18-1 respectively. A4 swept M1 26-24, 29-27 before knocking off Laguna Beach 22-25, 25-17, 15-13. In that contest, Cassandra Newman and Riley Reed worked together for the match-sealing block.
One of the better contests of the day saw Laguna Beach taking out San Gabriel Elite 18 Rosh in three 23-25, 25-15, 16-14 as Cambria Hall’s winner capped the quarterfinal victory for Laguna Beach. Laguna Beach wound up tied for third with Rage. One of the things to watch for is how many teams go on to qualify for the USAV 18 Open championships in Reno. Apex, which tied for fifth, already has a bid. Long Beach is as close to a lock as it gets to get one. San Gabriel, Laguna Beach, A4 and Rage are all going to chase theirs and we could see them in Open in Reno. Last year, the two finalists from 18 Open Elite in Forza1 18 UA and San Gabriel made deep runs at JN’s, with San Gabriel earning a bronze medal in 18 Open and Forza tying for fifth.
“It was a grind,” Long Beach coach Rodrigo Gil said. “I like that they are fighters. We teach the volleyball and they bring the heart. We tell them to keep grinding and keep playing hard and they best team will win. We need to get back to work and get our pass straight and our block straight. There is a lot of good competition out there and we know those matches are going ot be hard.”
17 Open Elite
Even though just six squads were left standing when the 17 Open Elite gold bracket got started on Monday, it was difficult to predict which one would walk away with the crown. Of the six, Rage Westside 17 Gabe was the only one to have yet dropped a match. Yet, it was AZ Sky 17 Gold putting it together and taking care of the rest, finishing its three-match run by sweeping Encore 17 Goldhahn 25-13, 25-13 in the final.
Adna Mehmedovic’s ace extended Sky’s lead to 12-3 in Game 2 and there was no slowing down. Trinity Freeman connected down the line to give Sky championship point at 24-12. The performance came on the heels of two crisp outings in the quarters and semis. Sky started out by sweeping ARVC 17N Adidas 25-19, 25-15 then followed that by eliminating City Beach 25-18, 25-16.
The only match that went the distance in the gold bracket was Encore’s 25-23, 22-25, 15-4 win over HJV 17 Premier to reach the semis. There, Encore knocked out Rage in two straight 25-16, 25-20, to hand Rage it’s only loss on the weekend. Sky went 3-0 on Saturday before suffering its only setback to end the second day. Sky lost to Forza1 North 17 UA but won the pool anyway based on tiebreakers.
Sky finished tied for fifth place in 16 National in Indianapolis last summer. After its performance in Vegas, Sky is hopeful of making an Open push this spring. The team changed its roster some, adding Freeman and Mehmedovic on the outside to strengthen its attack.
“It was great,” AZ Sky coach Jennifer Lenhart said. “We are kind of a new team and every tournament we’ve been better. We were better throughout this tournament and we played our best volleyball in the championship match. That was a lot of fun. We have 11 players and depth in every single position. They support each other and have a good attitude about it.”
The division was hard to get a handle on at the beginning of the weekend. There were 64 teams in action and only one had qualified for 15 Open a season ago. It was San Gabriel Elite 16 Rosh and the club opened as the No. 1 seed. For the first two days San Gabriel was untouchable but a bit of unfortunate luck came its way to start Day 3.
Rage Westside 16 Michelle opened as the No. 4 overall seed and like San Gabriel was performing well over the first two days. Rage didn’t lose either but wound up facing San Gabriel in the quarterfinals Sunday morning thanks to the format that reseeded the teams after Day 2. An argument could be made that they were the best two teams in the field, but there was no denying which team was better once the match was over. Rage swept 25-19, 25-17 and kept it going from there, eventually defeating CPA Xtreme 16 Elite in the final in straight sets 25-20, 25-21. That came after Rage beat Vision 16 Blue 25-14, 25-20 in the semis.
“Our serve and defense were amazing,” Rage coach Michelle Brazil said. “We stayed low error and we made smart choices when it counted.”
For Rage, it was a promising way to go into qualifying season. The Nor Cal club finished 22nd in 15 USA last summer but clearly has aspirations of breaking through for an Open in 2020. In hoping to get over that hump, Rage added Amelia Vugrincic on the outside and Madison Pietsch on the right. It was Pietsch taking over late in Game 2 against CPA and helping Rage put it out of reach. She scored four times in the final six points, including on championship point. The only set Rage lost all weekend came against Rancho Valley 16 Premier in the last match of the second day. Rage escaped that one 22-25, 25-22, 15-13.
Rage spent its time before Vegas competing against 18s teams in its power league. This was the first time this season going up against teams in its own age group.
“I feel like every day we built on our consistency and our out of system play,” Brazil said. “This was our first 16s tournament so it was fun to see that hard work pay off after getting crushed a few times (in power league).”
Beach Cities 15 Smack lost one set all weekend. It came in the opening frame against San Gabriel Elite 15 Rosh as the sides went toe-to-toe for the 15 Open championship. However, Beach Cities didn’t bat an eye and came back to defeat San Gabriel in three 21-25, 25-21, 15-8, to cap its near perfect weekend. San Gabriel had its shot, tied at 20 in Game 2 before Beach Cities went on a 5-1 spurt. Aliitasi Fakatoumafi’s ace ended the second set and gave Beach Cities momentum going into the third. Beach Cities was up 13-8 on Malia Peterson’s ace. Two points later Peterson delivered another ace to end it.
“I’m really proud of these girls,” Beach Cities coach Anthony Mayrie said. “They never quit. I wasn’t worried that they would step it up. Volleyball is a momentum type game and they stuck with it and kept fighting. (San Gabriel) is a tough team. We hadn’t seen serves and hitting like that. We just had to relax and control our blocking and hitting and let the game come to us.”
San Gabriel began the morning with a stirring victory over Absolute Black 15-1. Absolute was looking among the tournament favorites but San Gabriel changed that with the three-set victory 25-27, 25-9, 17-15. San Gabriel then swept Temecula Viper 15-1 to reach the final. Beach Cities dispatched Rage 15 Greg 25-20, 25-11 in the quarters. Vegas Velocity 15 Black put up some resistance before Beach Cities swept 28-26, 25-16 to go up against San Gabriel in the final.
“We were consistent,” Mayrie said of the weekend. “We were moving as a team. Our defense was really great. We didn’t make too many errors. We played tough all tournament.”