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Tawa’s Club Volleyball Dots: We celebrate, mourn and wonder what might be and what might have been

This is “Dots,”’s weekly look at 10 things in club volleyball, past or present, that interest me and hopefully will interest you. Look for Dots every Tuesday through Junior Nationals this summer:

• The qualifier season is winding down, with only two weekends remaining to lock in your bid to USA Volleyball’s Junior Nationals in Chicago. If you’re still in bid-seeking position, your best volleyball is ahead of you. Relax. Breathe through your eye lids. Activate your chakras. Go get it!

• NC Academy 15 Diamond had its breakthrough moment last weekend in 15 Open at the Northeast Qualifier. After placing 10th at Sunshine and 13th at Big South, Academy Diamond had a 9-0 showing in Philly, which included a sweep of Big South champion GP 15 Rox. This was Academy Diamond’s first Open qualifier win in club history.

Academy 15 Diamond shook off two qualifier finishes outside the top 10 to win NEQ with an unblemished run through 15 Open

“The team went into NEQ weekend focused on three main objectives: better ball control on pass/defense, smart shot selection for our pins and fast tempo offense,” noted head coach Bruce Cao.

Needless to say, mission accomplished.

Genevieve Harris, one of the elite freshman setters in the country, was a catalyst in the win.

“She provided great leadership all around and her set tempo/selection caused a lot of disruptions for the opposing team’s defense,” Cao noted.

Academy Diamond’s main pin hitters, Evelyn Carlson, Natalie Langston and Taylor Bruce, were very productive with a combined hitting percentage of more than .300 for the weekend. The defense, led by Aarushi Shah and Taylor Baggett, was strong and steady and both middles Laney Blevins and Ava Wilkerson were able to challenge opposing hitters, and were especially active with key blocks and touches during the championship match versus tall Tribe 15 Elite Cardinal.

Metro 15 Travel tied for third and also qualified. A Gold Pool win over Paramount 15s in three sets sealed the bid.

• Open is hardly the only plum at a national qualifier.

East Coast Power 15 Shock because the first team from the DC affiliate to win a qualifier

EC Power Chesapeake 15 Power DC went undefeated to win the 15 American bid over a staggering 107 other teams. The win was the first title for ECP’s DC satellite.

OH Morgan Reeves was a standout for the DC club. She hit .400 on the weekend with 120 kills over 26 sets, and added 10 blocks and 15 aces.

• Seven Hundred Sixty miles to the west, the Windy City Qualifier in Chicago was crowning three Open champions.

Mintonette m.51, last year’s age group Open national champion, won its second qualifier of the season with a 9-0 showing against a stellar field.

All six teams in Gold on Day 3 were previous qualifiers, which meant teams could play without the pressure of trying to bid.

Mintonette’s Sunday wins over NKYVC 15-1 Tsunami and Legacy 15-1 Adidas set the club up to face Austin Skyline 15 Royal for the fourth time this season. Mintonette was 1-2 in the prior three matches but was determined to square the season series after serve and pass faltered in Game 2, sending the teams to a deciding third set.

“Once we corrected that our transition game picked up with quality touches off the block,” said coach Max Miller. “We managed the last set by what we felt was more urgency/determination to win the WCQ title.”

Windy City was good for the club overall. Eleven of the 19 Mintonette teams entered made it to Gold on Day 3 and three received bids.

Houston Skyline 16 Royal, a top-five team nationally, asserted itself in winning 16 Open at Windy City

• Houston Skyline 16 Royal’s 10-0 run through 16 Open at Windy City included wins over four national top 20 teams on Day 3. Skyline, which finished second at Triple Crown, is one of my favorite teams to watch and a serious threat to win Gold at Junior Nationals.

“16 Royal came focused and ready to get their bid this weekend at Windy City, and did so without dropping a match (10-0),” said director Amy Burk. “Great ball control from the team as a whole, incredible defense, stellar communication, and a well-rounded offense propelled them to success. Kassie O’Brien did a great job orchestrating a balanced offense with solid production from middles Bayleigh Minor and Beka Pfefferkorn, and creative and smart pin attackers Taylor Porter, Bailey Warren and Ella Lewis. We also had key contributions in big moments defensively from liberos Reese Loyd and Megan Morello! It is no surprise that this team clinched their bid to Nationals, but we are so proud that they did it in style.”

Austin Skyline 16 Royal and OT T 16 JP also clinched a return trip to Chicago with strong 16 Open efforts.

1st Alliance 17 Gold played like a team in winning 17 Open at Windy City

• 1st Alliance 17 Gold shook off a Day 2 loss to win its hometown qualifier in 17 Open.

“The team was led by libero Ava Falduto, whose fierce leadership and defensive effort kept them in every match,” noted coach Danielle Mikos.

Falduto finished the weekend with 132 digs, 12 aces and passed a 2.5.

Falduto wasn’t the only defender to shine for 1st Alliance. In the semifinals, the team was down eight points in Game 1 versus MAVS KC 17-1 when DS Samantha Falk went back to serve. Five aces and several point saving digs later, 1st Alliance had come all the way back in a set it would eventually win.

Setter Kinsey Smith led the offense with 121 assists and also added 62 digs. Pin hitters Grace Nelson and Ellie White contributed with 68 and 60 kills, respectively. Nelson also tallied 17 aces and 66 digs. Calli Kenny was phenomenal all around, per usual, with 35 kills, 18 aces, 40 digs and 111 assists.

“This weekend was truly a team effort!” Mikos said.

17 Gold’s win highlighted a truly remarkable weekend for 1st Alliance 17s teams. 17 Silver won the 17 USA division, 17 Black placed third in 17 Liberty and 17 White finished first in 17 American.

1st Alliance 17 White was one of three 17s teams in the clubs to capture national qualifier Gold this past weekend

17 White’s win was redemption after losing in the semifinals at MEQ. On championship Sunday, the team twice fought back after dropping the first set to win in three; including in the championship match.

“These ladies put so much focus on their mental training and toughness,” said coach Christopher Yates. “They never flinched, even when trailing 19-17 in the second set of the finals and needing to win to push the game to a deciding third set. After a back and forth start to the third set, 17-White ended the game on a four-point run to close out the match 15-11 and secure the bid to USAV Nationals. This group never gives up on each other.”

• OT T 17 Aaron went 6-2 at Windy City, another strong showing for a team that won Sunshine and placed second at Triple Crown. The team has been riding the strong right arm all season of 6-0 junior OH Olivia Hart, who definitely qualifies as the “Best Player No One Has Heard of,” though not for much longer.

Hart got lost in the shuffle after sitting out the entire club season last year because of a broken leg. She came to OT this year with zero Open-level experience and is now the offensive leader on one of the top 17s teams in the country.

“Her work ethic and passion for the game has allowed her to continue to grow and get better after every tournament,” said coach Aaron Harrison. “With the game being taken away from her briefly last year, she is more determined than ever to make an impact on this team and help drive us to a great finish!”


JJVA 16 Teal sophomore setter Ryan Murphy also is on the verge of becoming known. Murphy stands 6-3 and used to be a hitter, but is rapidly earning a reputation as one of the best setters in Florida and the Southeast. In her second year delivering the rock, Murphy is reliable, motivational and tireless in her pursuit to make her hitters better. She’s a great teammate and works hard always because she has big goals: to play in the NCAA and professionally one day!

• Look for the Fab 50 list of the nation’s top prep seniors to be published in the very near future. It was my first time putting it together as a staff member at and I enjoyed it.

One think was irksome, however. Of the 50 players on the list, 16 gave up their final semester of high school and final season of club to join their collegiate teams early. No one last hurrah with club mates they’ve been with for years. No senior brunch, no senior prom, no winter or spring sport for their team. No holding on to their innocence for as long as possible.

Instead, you open Christmas gifts, see the ball drop and soon are off to college to train with your new team. This is serious stuff!

It is true that some kids want to go. They are ready for the next level. But others feel the pressure, subtle or overt, from their college coaches to join the squad early. The message is clear: “If you want to play early, you have to come early.” Players feel like they have no choice, especially at those programs that stack talent and bring in blue chippers class after class. You don’t want to fall behind…

I just hate it and wish college coaches would just back off. I am not sold that there’s a correlation between early enrollment and individual or team success. What’s my Exhibit A? In 2016, Stanford’s great freshman class showed up on campus the second week of August, not January or even April. Four were immediate starters and the team WON THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP, the first of three over four years.

Let the kids be kids for just this little while longer, coach. Your team will be just fine.

• I’ve been paying attention to young players, maybe not with prominent clubs, starting to come into their own and be noticed by college coaches. Here are two:

Abbey Emch, 6-3 sophomore OH/MB, Infinity 17 Green (OH) – Emch could be a top 10 recruit nationally before she’s done. She is still raw, but she is so very long, touches at least 10-5 and her improved arm swing is so fast that the ball explodes past defenders even seemingly in position to make a play on it. She has gained a lot of experience since last summer playing on the pin and is an every improving six-rotation player.

Sydni Vice
, 6-3 freshman RS, Memphis Juniors 16 Elite (TN) – Vice is a true 6-3 – great size for attacking — and the improvements she’s made over the past year on her ball control and defense have made her a high Division I prospect. Vice has rare length and athleticism and her block will be so big that only the exceptional attacker will have success against it.


We”ll end with this. Eight days ago, my friend Dan Kaplan, succumbed to a respiratory illness at the age of 59. His death left the Northern California volleyball community stunned and in mourning for a man whose predominant aim in life was to help. 

Dan was always kind, always giving of his time, always the good guy, mediator and go-between when there was a problem. I will miss him. I cannot believe he’s gone.

He wrote column for us at that I look forward to sharing with you later in the week.

Until next time …